Posted May 8 2012 1:23AM
SALT LAKE CITY -- Last spring they limped out of Memphis, broken, bruised and beaten. A year later, the Spurs did everything but walk right across the Great Salt Lake, barely getting a toe wet.
There's no way the Jazz could ever have beaten this team in a playoff series, maybe even in one game.
However, that was never the point. This was not a redemption, but a reboot.
For the Spurs, this was never about atoning for past sins by getting out of the first round. For a franchise that measures success by the number of championship banners -- four and counting -- fluttering in the rafters, it was about getting themselves right for the long haul that might carry them deep into June.
"It's step-by-step," said Tim Duncan. "We weren't looking ahead past these guys. We're going to take it as it comes. It was good to get these guys done with and move on to the next round."
These guys were the Jazz, who had to win seven of their last nine games and then lunge at the tape just to get into the playoffs. They were young and overachieving and wide-eyed and thrilled just to be here.
And they were overmatched by a team that used them the way one might a tuning fork, trying to find the right pitch. The Spurs had Tony Parker hitting the high range on the scale, then Duncan, Tiago Splitter and the rest of the lineup playing the underlying bass notes with the thump-thump-thump rhythm of a defense that collapsed in the paint and never let the Jazz thrive with an inside game that was supposed to be an advantage.
This was about looking forward, not to a presumptuous shortcut date in The Finals, but to all of the necessary steps they still have to take to get there. It was the equivalent of the strongman doing all of those pushups and curls and squats in the sweaty gym long before he flexes those finished and oiled muscles under the brightest spotlight.
With the Spurs, it is always about the reach to the future and never the regret of the past.
"Not really," said Manu Ginobili. "You always want to win. You always want to go as far as you can. Of course, last year was frustrating, because it's always hard when you go home after the first round. Like I said many times, the Grizzlies last year played very well. They played better than us. When that happens, you can't do much, just shake their hands and congratulate them and get ready for the next season.
"We played better than last year. We didn't find an opponent that was as good and as sharp as Memphis last year. They were tough. They had strength inside the paint, plus great shooters."
The Jazz had the green-around-the-gills, still-callow look that comes from a lack of experience. How Tyrone Corbin picked Utah up out of the muck and mire of last year's shocking twin divorce from legendary coach Jerry Sloan and All-Star point guard Deron Williams and put the Utah franchise back on its feet in such a short time is an accomplishment worth noting. Yet while his Jazz are no longer just a lump of clay, it's going to take considerably more molding to see what they can become.
For a series, at least, the Spurs might as well have been Michelangelo's David. This was not your ordinary 4-0 sweep that came with brooms. From the top of the lineup right through a roster that goes 11 or 12 deep, they were a high-powered vacuum hose that sucked up everything in sight. Incredibly, they never trailed at the end of a single quarter in the series and now have a winning streak dating back to April 12 that has reached 14 in a row.
"We are optimistic," Ginobili said. "We had a few great additions late in the season to make us even better. Our defense is slowly improving. I think Boris (Diaw) is doing a great job, Tiago too. Stephen Jackson is putting a lot of character in that defense, getting some big boards.
"I think we are a little better. But the league is so tough and anybody can beat another team. We've got to stay humble and think only on the next opponent. We can't be thinking now about the Finals, because it wouldn't help."
If it had been merely about washing a case of the Memphis blues out of their mouths, the Spurs would have been heaving huge sighs of relief rather than gulping in the reality of the task still ahead.
Coach Gregg Popovich put it another way when asked to look ahead: "As usual, scared to death."
Not the end of redemption, just a start.
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