This farewell had better be different. Otherwise, the Jazz's being swept by the Spurs would undo much of the good they've done this season. Those 36 victories in the shortened, 66-game season and all the effort it took to make the playoffs would be obscured by four straight defeats.
This team has come too far to have it all end this soon. The 2011-12 Jazz deserve to be remembered for more than a first-round playoff disaster. Of course, that legacy is entirely up to them and the Spurs.
Even one Jazz victory in this series would require some cooperation from San Antonio. The Spurs were primed for the playoffs; the Jazz were geared just to get here.
"Seven long years … seven long years," Al Jefferson was saying after the next-to-last game of the regular season, when a Jazz victory sent him into the playoffs for the first time since his rookie year in Boston.
And in nine short days, it all could end. No Jazzman has lived up to his playoff potential whatever I judged it to be, with the evidence I had. NBA veterans Devin Harris and Jefferson played better in Game 3, scoring 21 points each, but they were largely absent in the second half. Paul Millsap, in his fifth postseason with the Jazz, has struggled.
If we all were curious about how the Jazz's young players would perform, the answers have been discouraging. Everybody wanted to see more of Derrick Favors in Game 4, and they got five missed free throws from him. Gordon Hayward, one of the NBA's most improved players since the All-Star break, went 1-for-10 from the field. Enes Kanter is overmatched against San Antonio, and Alec Burks is not much better.
Yeah, it's been ugly, which is why Game 4 is critical for its own sake. The Jazz have one last chance to inspire hope for the future, 48 minutes to leave everybody with good feelings.
Not like recent endings, in other words. Even in the John Stockton-Karl Malone era, the Jazz lost their last home playoff games in 2001, '02 and '03.
Resuming playoff competition in '07, when they melted down in the fourth quarter against San Antonio in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals and Jerry Sloan and Derek Fisher were ejected, the Jazz consistently have crumbled in their final ESA appearances. In '08, they at least came back from 19 points down at halftime against the Los Angeles Lakers, but the rally fell short. The next two years, they again fell way behind the Lakers and failed to recover.
So nobody has left the arena with a favorable lasting impression of the Jazz for a long, long time. That's why there's something at stake Monday, even if the outlook of the series hardly would change.
This game will affect how we view everybody associated with this team, particularly Tyrone Corbin. He could become the second Jazz coach who got swept in his first playoff series. That would not be a good distinction for Corbin, even if Sloan's career turned out fairly well.