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GORDON MONSON: Wounded Jazz aren't roadkill just yet

Published May 22, 2007 2:34 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The look of the Jazz at Monday's practice, following their Game 1 loss here to the Spurs, reminded me of a sad, disturbing experience I had when I was a kid.

Cue the violin music, will ya Charlie . . .

I was just finishing up the early morning business of delivering 72 daily editions of The Philadelphia Inquirer - my first newspaper job - on a bright summer morning. As I rode my bike down Foulk Road, a busy, tree-lined, four-lane thoroughfare in my hometown, having dropped off my last paper, I saw something move on a patch of grass adjacent to the street.

It was a squirrel.

A squirrel that had been hit by a car.

Thing was, only half the squirrel had been run over.

The little fella was bravely crawling along with its front paws or claws, whatever, pulling it forward. The hind quarters, the entire back half, was squished.

OK, that's kind of gross.

I don't know what ended up happening to that squirrel, but it probably died an extremely painful death over the next hour or so before rigor mortis set in. But what impressed me was the furry little bugger's attempt to live.

That was the Jazz on Monday.

Half run-over by the Spurs on Sunday, quite literally on account of one bad half, they continued crawling forward, hoping neither elimination, nor rigor mortis would set in, looking, still, for a miracle.

Actually, they were looking for answers within themselves.

"We don't have all day to screw around with it," coach Jerry Sloan said. ". . . We've got to play much better. Play better defensively. Not give them so many easy baskets. That's what killed us."

That's just one of the things.

The Jazz tumbled into an 18-point deficit in the first half of Game 1, allowing the Spurs to shoot 66 percent over that span, and, by the end, San Antonio made 54 percent of its shots from the field.

"They did what they wanted," Sloan said. "They got layups. Our big people have to do a better job of giving us help. I thought we were soft defensively."

Manu Ginobili repeatedly broke free for uncontested drives and open jumpers, and, on the occasions when he was picked up, he fired the ball to a teammate for an open look, gathering 10 assists en route.

"He's so instinctive," said Jazz assistant coach Phil Johnson. "He's their wild card. He can shoot the three and get to the basket. And he knows how to execute, too. They all do."

The Jazz's solution?

They don't really have one, although their best chance against Ginobili is to crowd him, theoretically knocking his jumper off rhythm, and, then, when he blows by whichever defender is on him, the Jazz must quickly read and rotate to cover.

The problem with that, as mentioned, is Ginobili's passing skills, and the ability of his teammates, such as Tim Duncan, to finish.

Duncan was a beast in the first game, scoring 27 points, hauling 10 boards, and dishing five assists, and the Jazz may be ready to simply acknowledge and acquiesce to his greatness.

"He's the best player in the league," Johnson said. "He's going to score his points. We have to do a better job on Oberto and Elson."

Relative stiffs Fabricio and Francisco combined for 20 points in the paint.

Back to Duncan, the Jazz would best be served by roughing him up. He's too smooth and smug on the floor otherwise. Mehmet Okur couldn't handle him, neither can Carlos Boozer. Rafael Araujo, the Haffinator, who played well in a short stint Sunday, could and should be given the opportunity to beat on Duncan to at least try to rock him out of his comfort zone.

"Make him work," Johnson said.

The Jazz created disadvantages for themselves on offense, too, frequently breaking their sets by taking quick shots. They made just 29 percent of their attempts in the first half. The Spurs are the NBA's best defensive outfit, so spontaneous, unsound shots jacked up against them are death.

"We didn't get into any kind of rhythm on offense," Sloan said. "They do a good job of taking teams out of their offense. We took too many outside shots, casual shots."

The answer? Stronger screens, sharper cuts, crisper passes, and better decision-making.

"We have to be sharper," Sloan said. "Pass the ball where it should be passed. Make the other guys work on defense."

Making a priority of setting up Boozer, who never really found his groove in Game 1, is a key.

"It's hard to get into the flow," Sloan said, "if you don't get the ball."

Deliberate resolve to pound it inside, then, will be stressed today in Game 2.

"We're not patient enough," Andrei Kirilenko said. "When we focus on every possession, we're good. We need 48 minutes of concentration. Twelve minutes not concentrating [the second quarter of Game 1] cost us a win. Carlos is hungry for the ball. Deliver it to him."

That sounded like a good idea to Carlos, although he said he feels stronger about the Jazz's increased attention hammered in at the defensive end, and the hammering there, and everywhere, isn't all that complicated.

"All of us just have to step up," Boozer said. "We have to keep working."

Keep crawling and pulling and living as long as they can, before rigor mortis sets in, just like the half-squished squirrel on the side of Foulk Road.




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