Posted May 3 2012 9:45AM
SAN ANTONIO -- What's the difference between the Jazz and a piņata?
At least when you beat the piņata with a stick, candy falls out.
Ah well, so the Jazz are doing their part to fight tooth decay, if not insomnia.
Two games into the playoffs and the hardscrabble Utah bunch that won seven of nine regular season games -- including its last five in a row -- to qualify for this little party has yet to prove that it still has a pulse.
Of course, the Spurs had something to do with that.
"They just put their foot on our neck and wouldn't let us up," said center Al Jefferson.
That was as good a way as any to describe the suffocating 114-83 win by San Antonio on Wednesday night.
The Spurs have traditionally had a way of settling over opponents like a wet blanket, setting an NBA record with their 13th consecutive 50-win season. And this season's team, to some observers, might be the very best edition of a franchise that has already collected four champions.
For one, the Spurs are healthy and raring to go this time around, unlike last year when Manu Ginobili (elbow) and Tim Duncan (ankle) were less-than-fit in a stunning first-round upset by Memphis. For another, Tony Parker has raised his game to a level somewhere in the stratosphere. He's capable of dashing to the hoop for layups and 28 points as in Game 1 or, being a facilitator, as he was in Game 2 with 18 points and nine assists. And on top of it all, the Spurs have a roster that is deeper than a grad school philosophy class. Rookie Kawhi Leonard, in only his second playoff game, hit 6 of 7 shots for 17 points and nobody in the locker room even raised an eyebrow in surprise.
"They're the Spurs; they're good," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin.
However, the Jazz are supposed to be able to compete. Or try. Or at least not stand there like a grade school class with its jaws open while getting a first look at a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton.
"Embarrassment," Jefferson said. "I don't think we played as hard as we could to get back into the game...Looking back now, you got to keep playing, man. The Clippers were down 27 and they came back and won on somebody else's home floor. You don't just give up out there."
Sad to say, it appeared the Jazz did that after they had cut San Antonio's lead to 31-26 in the second quarter and then ran into a 20-0 Spurs buzz saw.
"I don't know," said forward Paul Millsap. "I especially can't explain ... where they came out and just whupped us. It could be the worst ever for us. I never witnessed anything like that.
"Their defense is tough, but a lot of it is on us. We're making the game harder on ourselves. We're just not playing basketball out there."
So the gallows humor speculation begins. Will Spurs coach Gregg Popovich leave Duncan, Ginobili and Parker to rest at home in Texas rather than make the long flight to Salt Lake City, they way he did back on April 9? Is that the only way the Jazz would even have a chance? After all, it was the only time in six meetings now this season that Utah beat San Antonio.
Let's face it. This was a mismatch from the start and was always going to take a Herculean effort by Jazz. Instead, they have come up puny. Following the Game 1 whipping, the Jazz flew all the way back home to Utah for two days of video review, soul-searching, drilling and promising to come back with a more inspired effort. It instead turned out to the biggest waste of jet fuel this side of the Newt Gingrich presidential campaign.
The Jazz have single-handedly made the argument for the return of the best-of-three mini-series in the first round of the playoffs, which many believe are only stretched out to give Charles Barkley more air time for his Emmy-winning repertoire.
Corbin, who admitted to being overwhelmed by nerves prior to his playoff coaching debut, still doesn't seem to have a real plan. He surrendered the matchup war to Popovich's small lineup in the series opener and has yet to figure out how to make the most of the Jazz' own strength.
Utah's biggest advantage coming into the series was supposed to be its inside depth with Jefferson, Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. But through the first two games they have been outscored by the Spurs 120-80 in the paint. Jefferson has been particularly stifled, double-teamed, frustrated and unable to get into any kind of rhythm.
The Jazz shot an abysmal 6-for-19 in the first quarter of Game 2 and then got worse with 5-for-28 in the second quarter. From the opening tip of the opening game, the Jazz have looked tight, lost and overwhelmed.
"We played to the best of our ability," Jefferson said.
Piņatas everywhere are flinching at the thought.
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