This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Jazz had their matriculation from playoff neophytes to playoff veterans stymied late Friday night, their graduation to another level shunted by Chris Paul and his Clippers in a foundation-rattling 98-93 loss.
At this point, such a result was … unexpected.
Game 5 supposedly was a middle reliever, a setup, for Game 6, the closer, the unceremonious end for the Clips in this first-round series. Not so fast. Both teams battled adversity in these games, both reaching for required guts and creativity to master the challenge of opposition and injury.
It ultimately was the Clippers who had more of both on this night, more clutch shooting, more savvy, halting the Jazz's two-game win streak and making kaput their plans for advancing to the second round on their home floor.
The Clippers instead righteously came to ball at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Led by Paul, one of the world's best basketball generals, L.A. ran straight through the Jazz's wonderful ideas. And of course Paul, who had 29 points and eight assists, was the one lighting the Clippers' fire. Jazz coach Quin Snyder had said the point guard was difficult to handle. He called him "tough to extinguish" and hoped in the attempt that "everything else doesn't burn down."
It kind of did.
All Snyder wanted in Game 6 was for his team to concentrate on the important matters at hand at both ends. "We just want to execute," he said. "That's what our focus always is."
And then he watched his own team's … uh, execution. The whole messy thing got burnt and blurred Friday night. The Jazz had trouble hitting open looks and also stopping them, simple as that. A vigorous comeback from a 14-point deficit fell short at the end.
As much as the Jazz wanted to put this series away now, never wanting to go back to Staples Center Rodney Hood had said the team would approach this game as though it were a Game 7 the Jazz couldn't muster enough offense or defense to make it happen.
Even in the absence of Blake Griffin, and with almost all of their players available, they could not overcome the Clippers' resolve and resourcefulness. The confidence coming from their win Tuesday night in L.A. dissipated here, the Jazz unable to build momentum from within themselves, or from the crowd at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The fans tried. Again and again, they pushed the Jazz on. They darn near brought some kind of unseen force meant to propel the Jazz forward. But the team just stalled, even especially after building leads. Even with 51 wins during the regular season, the Jazz lost at Vivint Arena 12 times, and they dropped the third game here before dropping the sixth, too. The place wasn't just loud, it sounded like a squadron of F-35s from Hill Field were landing at mid-court, those blasts echoing off the building's cement blocks, its walls, its ceiling, its steel beams, its heart and soul.
But those reverberations could not, would not lift the players, as Hayward had expected. They shot a mere 41 percent and missed 11 free throws.
For guys such as Rudy Gobert and Hayward and Hood and Derrick Favors and Joe Ingles, playing in a close-out game was a new experience. Never before had they had their foot on the throat of an opponent in the NBA playoffs, and that's precisely how it appeared, the Jazz unable to do the necessary deed, the Jazz being the ones who choked.
Hayward got 31 points and George Hill 22 and Gobert 15.
It wasn't enough.
How those guys will respond to facing their own elimination Sunday on the road is a mystery. If it resembles what happened in Game 6, they won't like the answer. The Clips, of course, knew they were goners with a loss Friday night, and they responded like determined, grizzled fighters.
It was impressive. The Clippers rallied around themselves and their situation and did what had to be done to win. They played as though they really had no choice but to swing hard, swing often. They played like desperadoes.
"Both teams have been desperate the whole series," Snyder said.
The Jazz now will discover the real meaning of the D-word come Sunday.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checkouts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.