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Kragthorpe: Jazz usually recover in Game 3, but Spurs look too tough

Published May 3, 2012 10:33 pm

NBA playoffs • There's no blueprint for how to respond to the horror show in San Antonio.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Some encouraging historical data exists regarding the Jazz's ability to recover from a disastrous playoff defeat. But discovering it requires going back to the old days.

Like the Deron Williams-Carlos Boozer era.

While the Jazz have shown some toughness this season, there's no postseason guide to project how they will respond to Wednesday's horror show in San Antonio. That 114-83 defeat raised questions about their ability to win even one game in this series.

Going into Saturday's Game 3 vs. the Spurs at EnergySolutions Arena, it is worth remembering that one resounding defeat rarely carries over to the next meeting in the playoffs. When he said, "It's just one game," second-year forward Derrick Favors was being reasonable, not necessarily being in denial.

Eight times in the middle of a series, the Jazz have lost games by 20-plus points. They won the next game four times, came close three other times and only once were blown out again.

Of course, all of this stuff overlooks some critical issues.

The Jazz are overmatched against the Spurs in personnel and coaching. Paul Millsap is the only active Jazzman who can claim any of that favorable playoff history with the team. And the Jazz look nothing like the team that finished the regular season so impressively.

Point guard Devin Harris has been completely ineffective against the Spurs, after his brilliant April. Al Jefferson and Millsap shot a combined 9-for-26 from the field in Game 2. Gordon Hayward is not the same player lately.

Nothing coach Tyrone Corbin's trying is working. While his replacing Favors is not the reason the Jazz gave up a 20-0 run in Wednesday's second quarter, that move sure didn't help.

So the Jazz find themselves in jeopardy of being swept for a second consecutive playoff series. In 2010, they lost Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals to the Los Angeles Lakers when Wesley Matthews' tip attempt somehow bounced off the rim at the buzzer, then they were crushed in Game 4.

Otherwise, they've resisted sweeps. Even in 2009, when they faced the Lakers as a No. 8 seed, they managed to win Game 3 by surviving Kobe Bryant's last-second shot.

The Jazz of John Stockton and Karl Malone and the Jazz of Williams and Boozer regularly managed to overcome unfavorable situations under coach Jerry Sloan, at least temporarily. The issue is whether that trend can continue with the Jazz of … whom, exactly?

That's the problem. No player defines this team, and the coach is learning on the job. Somehow, they managed to go 21-13 after the All-Star break and 7-2 down the stretch to make the playoffs, but they're being badly exposed by the Spurs.

When they've played Game 3 at home — meaning they're the lower-seeded team in the series — the Jazz are 20-4 all-time. This is the sixth time in Millsap's tenure that the Jazz have lost two road games to start a series, and they're 4-1 in those previous Game 3s. That includes a victory over San Antonio in the 2007 Western Conference finals, when Millsap was a rookie.

Reminded of such a recovery, Millsap said, "Anything can happen. We're going to stay positive."

The trouble is, the Jazz and Spurs were fairly comparable teams in '07. Not so, now. I'm positive of that.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt