Posted May 3 2010 6:45AM
LOS ANGELES -- Jerry Sloan was talking toughness. Fair enough. Water can discuss wet, Sloan, one of the all-time grit players before becoming one of the all-time grit coaches, can discuss toughness.
It was Sunday afternoon, after his Jazz had failed the Sloan test in a timid first half at Staples Center. Not a good thing with him on the sideline, not a good thing against a Lakers team building momentum by the day. Opening half of the opening game of the Western Conference semifinals, 24 minutes into a best-of-seven series, and we already have a toughness issue.
The Lakers prompted it as the early aggressors in what became a 104-99 victory and Sloan spotlighted it. Figure it also came up behind closed doors, just as it will undoubtedly be mentioned in the Utah camp before Tuesday's Game 2 as the Jazz get a chance to either push back or have to hear several more days of the chastising.
It's already an unavoidable storyline for them to live down, though. Sloan made it so. The Lakers haven't exactly been known for their intensity the last month(s), but there they were Sunday, quickly in control while building leads of 11 points in the first quarter and 13 in the second.
And there was Sloan after.
"This is growing process for us," he said. "We're playing some guys that are pretty young. I thought they stepped up more in the second half. We got a little casual in the first half, I guess you might say. I'm not taking anything away from the Lakers, but that's when you have to pick it up. If you want to play in this league and play in the playoffs, you have to be a little nasty. Not hurt anybody, but you've got to not accept getting your nose rubbed in the dirt."
"They [the Lakers] do a terrific job of standing you up. They rub up, they hit our guards hard. Which they should. You can't stop when you get touched. If you're going to expose anybody, you've got to do it with hard cuts to the basket instead of soft cuts to the baskets or where you're trying to get it. I thought we came out rather soft in that department."
"I just hope that our guys come with enough toughness [in Game 2] to withstand their toughness. They have a terrific team, and you learn something by playing against them if you want to make yourself better. They will take your nose and stick it in the ground and turn around on their heels on top of you. That's how good they are. We have to learn to fight through that."
"He's just trying to rattle those guys up," said Lakers forward Lamar Odom when given a synopsis of Sloan's comments.
Hardly. Sloan doesn't send coded messages through the press, doesn't do psychological ploys, and doesn't look for ways to motivate his players other than putting facts, films and straight talk directly in front of them. In that way, Phil Jackson is across the way coaching against the anti-Phil Jackson.
This was Sloan as Sloan can be. He said about an hour before tip that Deron Williams, listed as a game-time decision with a bruised elbow, would play and, when asked if Williams was 100 percent, noted that "If he puts his uniform on, he's a hundred percent." If someone's arm is severed, tape it up and get back in there. So it was that the Jazz were bound to get called out, because they deserved it.
The first quarter ended with the Jazz losing control of the ball, Williams going into the backcourt to chase it down, and Derek Fisher diving to get there first, even though it was the final second and neither side had time to do anything. The first half ended with the Lakers shooting 60.5 percent and scoring 53 points as Kobe Bryant got where he wanted while making six of seven attempts.
The second half was much better for Utah -- a big comeback and even the lead as late as 93-91 with 3:57 remaining. But that's where feel-good ended.
"I think we made an example that we can push back," said Paul Millsap, one of the Jazz big men. "The second half, we came out and did that. You saw guys on the ground. You saw guys going after the ball. We just got to do it for four quarters."
So why not have that mindset from the start?
"I don't know," Millsap said. "It just wasn't there. I don't know."
Sloan probably has some thoughts on the topic.
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