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For the third consecutive time after a humbling playoff loss, Jazz center Al Jefferson appeared beaten. He spoke slowly and quietly. He avoided eye contact. His confidence and swagger were gone.
Minutes after Utah coach Tyrone Corbin hinted at a lineup change and praised young power forward Derrick Favors for refusing to accept defeat, the Jazz's premier player all but ruled Utah dead and done in its Western Conference first-round series against the surging San Antonio Spurs.
"We're playing against a team that is at its peak, and I don't see nobody beating 'em. … It's a great team. I just take my hat off to 'em. Mad respect," said Jefferson, prior to practice Sunday at Utah's workout facility.
Jefferson said a Jazz team down 3-0 in a best-of-seven matchup hasn't given up and will fight for a Game 4 victory Monday at EnergySolutions Arena. But during a series of questions about the strength of a highly efficient Spurs offense that's shooting 51.2 percent from the field and averaging 107.3 points during the series, an up-front and honest Jefferson acknowledged what's been obvious since the postseason began: An unproven Utah club has been severely outmatched against a four-time NBA champion San Antonio squad.
"Right now they just playing well, man," Jefferson said. "I ain't never seen nothing like this."
Jefferson began the series saying he was honored to play against Spurs center Tim Duncan, who has limited Jefferson's aggressiveness and efficiency on the offensive end of the floor. As the series has unfolded, the Jazz's average leading scorer and rebounder during the regular season has offered constant praise and respect for a fine-tuned Spurs machine that's won 24 of 26 games dating back to April 11.
Jefferson said he hasn't competed against a team comparable to San Antonio during his eight-year career. And three separate times during an interview Sunday, the Utah big man acknowledged the Spurs are stronger than and superior to the Jazz.
"It gets to the point where you're just playing a team that's better than you; that know what it takes to win and know how to win," Jefferson said.
He added: "If you lose to a team because you didn't play your best, that's one thing. If you're playing your best and doing everything that you can, and you're just playing against a team that's better than you, that's another one."