Sitting on a small set of bleachers discussing perhaps the greatest challenge of his basketball career, the Jazz's Carlos Boozer came right out and said what everybody else was thinking:
He needs help.
Facing elimination against the San Antonio Spurs tonight in Game 5 of the NBA's Western Conference finals at the AT&T Center in Texas, Boozer said the Jazz will not survive unless he and point guard Deron Williams can get more help from their teammates than they have been getting in the first four games of the best-of-seven series.
"We have guys that are talented enough to pick it up, and we're going to need those guys to pick it up for us to have a chance," Boozer said.
"Maybe they feel the pressure, more than we do," he added. "I don't know what the case might be. But I'm going to tell you, for us to win Game 5, we need Memo to play great. We need AK to play great. We need Matt to play great. We need Paul, we need Gira, we need D-Fish. We need everybody else to get on the same page as me and Willie and we have to be on the same page defensively."
Nobody is expecting the Jazz to win tonight.
Not only did they melt down in the fourth quarter and lose Game 4 at home 91-79 amid a fusillade of ejections, technical fouls and garbage-throwing fans, they are also riding an 18-game losing streak on the road against the Spurs.
What's more, they trail the series 3-1 - a deficit from which only seven teams in league history have recovered, none in the Western Conference finals.
"It's tough," Williams said. "We're upset, because we're not in a good position. . . . We dug ourselves a big hole and it's going to be tough to get out of it, but we just have to keep fighting. We have to stay positive, keep our heads next game and try to go down there and get a win - something we haven't done in a while in their building."
Eight years and change, to be exact.
And the Spurs will be motivated to finish off the Jazz, to both avoid having to return to Salt Lake City for Game 6 and to clinch their third trip the NBA Finals in the last five seasons. The Jazz must win the next three games in a row to win the series.
"I just want to see how these guys respond," coach Jerry Sloan said. "They haven't been in this situation before, where the walls are pretty tall to try to climb. It'll be interesting to see how we do. We started off in this thing hoping we could get to the playoffs, hoping we could improve a little bit. This is a much, much better team than we started the playoffs with. But we're playing a great team to begin with right now. We all know that."
Boozer and Williams have scored 56 percent of the Jazz's points in the series, and they're shooting much better than the rest of their teammates. The difference was especially glaring in Game 4, when Williams and Boozer were the only players to score in double figures for the first time in the series.
Not all of the others apparently believe there's a problem, though.
"I don't really think we're struggling," forward Andrei Kirilenko said. "We're playing hard, but the style of the game is a little different. San Antonio is trying to stop our execution . . . let's say, allow our individual game. We can't beat them individually. We need to beat them as a team, that's why we need everybody together, working on the same page."
While many others have endured slumps, mistakes and letdowns of varying degrees, center Mehmet Okur has been the biggest disappointment.
An All-Star and the team's second-leading scorer in the regular season, he has averaged just 7.0 points and 5.0 rebounds against the Spurs - he's shooting a miserable 10-for-38 - and generally dismissed his poor production by saying he's more focused on defending San Antonio's Tim Duncan.
Duncan is averaging 22 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game, however, even after straining against foul trouble in Game 3. Okur did not speak with reporters after practice Tuesday.
At any rate, the Jazz are holding out hope that they can make history and continue to establish themselves as a contender for the future.
Tonight's game "is the opportunity to prove to ourselves and to the rest of the league that we're going to be something to reckoned with - in this series, obviously, if we win - and in the future," Boozer said. "Nobody expects us to be here, let alone win Game 5. We've already shocked them a little bit, but we want to continue to keep playing and have a chance to win this series."
"We're going to have to get all the loose balls, all the rebounds," he added, "every advantage we can have, we're going to have to get."
A little help?
The Jazz need someone other than Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams to contribute offensively, if they're going to win Game 5 in San Antonio:
Williams & Boozer Rest of Jazz
Pts FGs Pts FGs
Game 1 54 20-40 46 16-46
Game 2 59 24-42 37 12-40
Game 3 58 22-38 51 19-39
Game 4 45 20-37 34 12-31
Totals 216 86-157 168 59-156
Averaging 24.5 ppg vs. Spurs, but is getting little help aside from Williams