Jazz’s season on brink after 102-90 Game 3 loss to Spurs
By Brian T. Smith
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published May 06 2012 12:00AM
Devin Harris attacked. Derrick Favors delivered. Tyrone Corbin made changes.
Nothing was enough.
The No. 8 Jazz gave the No. 1 San Antonio Spurs their best shot Saturday at EnergySolutions Arena. When Utah’s night was over, its season was on the brink, and some fans in the sellout crowd of 19,911 showered the Jazz with boos as they slumped off the hardwood.
San Antonio executed during the final 20 minutes like an experienced playoff team shooting for a fifth NBA title. The Jazz’s cracks widened at the worst possible time. And with Utah’s 102-90 loss in Game 3 of a Western Conference first-round series, the Jazz stare at a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven matchup against one of the premier teams in the league.
No franchise in NBA history has ever come back from such a hole to win a playoff series.
"It hurts because it puts us down 3-0. It’s a tough loss on our home floor," Corbin said. "I thought we played better. We just couldn’t put it together enough to get over the hump against [the Spurs]. Their experience showed. They’re a great ballclub and take nothing away from them. They know time and situations in games, and exactly what to get in different times."
The Jazz’s situation has suddenly become dire.
A fiery team that entered the postseason riding a five-game winning streak and saying it hoped to shock the world has lost three contests by a combined 58 points. The Spurs are 6-1 against Utah this season, and the Jazz’s lone win came when San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich left his Big Three in Texas so they could rest during a lockout-compressed campaign.
Popovich credited his team with staying together during a tight contest that saw a much-improved Utah team lead 58-56 with 8 minutes and 51 seconds left in the third quarter. San Antonio immediately sharpened its attack, though, using 3-pointers from Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson to blitz away for a game-changing 15-5 run. Even when Favors powered the Jazz back, pulling Utah within 81-76, Tony Parker’s 16 fourth-quarter points on 5-of-5 shooting coldly put the Jazz away.
"They know that if they just stick with each other and the system that often times things are going to turn your way," Popovich said. "That experience they have gained over a long period of time, and I guess they feel comfortable with each other when they’re in a tough environment like here in Utah."
The playoffs haven’t been kind to the Jazz in recent years. Utah failed to make the postseason last year, and hasn’t won a playoff game since April 30, 2010, which was the Jazz’s first-round clincher against Denver. Utah was then swept 4-0 by the Los Angeles Lakers in a second-round series.
The only time Utah’s been swept in a first-round series was in 1989, when the No. 2 Jazz fell 3-0 to No. 7 Golden State.
Everyone from Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap to Corbin said Utah will again come out fighting for Game 4 on Monday at ESA. But after being blown out by a combined 46 points during Games 1 and 2 — including a 114-83 embarrassment Wednesday in San Antonio — the Jazz face a sinking realization.
An unproven team blending trusted veterans with four players 22 or younger fought off doubters all season, trading a 15-18 record on Feb. 28 for a playoff seed during its next-to-last game of the season. But the playoffs Utah longed for have been frustrating, disappointing and humbling.
The Jazz are stuck between rebuilding and contending. And while they vowed they won’t back down in the face of what could be their final game of 2011-12, they also know San Antonio exists on an entirely different level.
"They beat us more games than we beat them," Millsap said. "They’re a pretty good basketball team. I’m not taking anything away from them. I felt like our effort was there [Saturday]. They just outexecuted us."
And put the Jazz on the brink.
Game 4 has been set for 6 p.m. Monday on TNT. … Ex-Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and former Utah point guard John Stockton attended the game. … The Jazz are 9-2 at home all-time against the Spurs in the playoffs. … Utah guard Raja Bell was active but didn’t play. He has yet to take the court in the series.