SALT LAKE CITY – Long-suffering Jazz followers no doubt can recall the words of the legendary Jerry Sloan each time his teams faced a crisis similar to the situation the current group encounters now.
Taking a literary license without quoting a specific incident, the Hall of Fame coach would bark something along the lines of “Now we’ll see what we’re made of” when the Jazz hit a funk. For sure, truth always stands the test of time.
After winning the first two games of the best-of-seven playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Jazz got embarrassed in Tinsel Town. They lost both games, putting up mild resistance in Game 3 and barely competing two nights later.
Game 4, in which the Clippers opened a lead that nearly reached 30 points in the first half, was especially pathetic. A flurry to open the third quarter allowed the Jazz to briefly save face somewhat but the outcome never was in doubt.
And now here we are, the series knotted at 2-2 with the Jazz still holding home-court advantage. The season, the No. 1 seed and likely the future of this group all are on the line this week.
What are the Jazz made of? The time is now to find out.
To start with, the team needs to show more heart than it did on the road trip. The Tin Man act, letting a role player such as Reggie Jackson act like a star and allowing momentum-changing ferocious dunks by Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, cannot travel to the Wasatch Front. One more slam by Ivica Zubac is one more too many.
In other words, put up a fight. There’s no excuse to roll over.
At the same time, hold off screaming panic. Not yet, anyway.
“At the end of the day they did what they were supposed to do,” said Donovan Mitchell. “They won two games on their home floor and took care of their home court, and so did we. It may not look like it or feel that way, but that’s what they were supposed to do. And we did the same thing, so now it’s on us to go out there and be the aggressor and take care of home court and go from there.
“We were up 2-0; we feel like we could have got one (in Los Angeles) and we didn’t. It’s 2-2; it’s the best out of three at this point.”
There you go, right on schedule. Every time it happens, when each home team wins the first four games in the playoffs, those involved spew the familiar lines about the series being even and nobody doing anything beyond the expected.
Yet, somehow this series doesn’t seem all squared, not with the complexion of all four games.
Despite finishing in fourth place, five games behind the Western Conference-leading Jazz, the Clippers are a legitimate championship contender. With Leonard, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, this team has all the necessary ingredients – especially if George continues to overcome his playoff-failing reputation.
As such, most experts expected a long series, with each team having its turns. But two close wins at home were offset by the blowouts in Los Angeles, providing the Clippers with the obvious momentum.
Before the season, even with the most positive of prognostications, the Jazz likely would have signed off on their current scenario. Two of the next three at home, exactly what every team would want.
But the change of venue doesn’t guarantee anything beyond hometown support. The Jazz have to correct all sorts of problems that the Clippers exploited.
They also need a full roster, meaning Mike Conley has to find a way to play. As he’s done most of the last two seasons, Joe Ingles has adequately replaced Conley in the starting lineup but bench production has dropped off significantly.
Time to see what the Jazz are made of.