SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The fans will be wearing “True Blue” shirts, cheering at the right times and groaning when officials make calls against their team, all the things that have helped the Utah Jazz win every home game this postseason.
But can the crowd fix a leaky defense? Or get struggling shooters to find their touch?
If not, this may be the final weekend of cheering for several months.
Utah is down 2-0 to the San Antonio Spurs going into Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Saturday night. While the Jazz overcame that deficit in the first round against Houston, starting their rally with two home wins, they know they likely need to take both these games to pull it off again. Game 3 is the biggie, because no NBA team has ever overcome a 3-0 playoff deficit.
“We can’t just bank on the fact that we’re going to be at home to win it for us,” forward Carlos Boozer said Friday. “We’ve got to show up.”
The Jazz haven’t done that so far. Both games in San Antonio were decided by halftime, with Utah not even holding the lead since the first quarter of the first game. It’s quite a contrast to Cleveland, which is down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals, but at least had a chance to win both games in the final minute.
The Spurs deserve much of the credit for this throttling.
Tim Duncan has been as efficient as ever and Tony Parker has been a blur, zipping into the lane at will. Add in Manu Ginobili’s scoring as a reserve and some timely shots by other role players, and it seems the only thing San Antonio has to worry about is boredom.
“We’re playing as well as we have all year long,” said Duncan, who is averaging 26.5 points, 12 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.5 blocks this series. “But we go and we look at some film and we still see some little things that we’re doing wrong. And that’s a great feeling to have, to be able to improve on some stuff even in a series up 2-0 in the Western Conference finals.”
Utah has the horrible feeling of trying to decide which is the bigger problem, its offense or its defense.
Take away the combined 44-of-82 from Boozer and Williams and the rest of the Jazz are 28-of-86, an ugly 33 percent. The worst offenders are Derek Fisher (2-16) and Mehmet Okur (7-28). Worse yet, those two are supposed to be steadying influences. Both have championship rings and were the only guys who’d been past the first round of the playoffs when this postseason began.
Sloan is bothered most by the lack of defense. He sees players lingering on the offensive end after missed shots and they’re repeatedly getting caught in the wrong place when they do set up their defense.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen us be so totally lost just changing ends,” he said.
The Spurs have capitalized, making 55 percent of their shots. Four starters are doing even better than that, with the center duo of Fabricio Oberto and Francisco Elson a combined 16-of-19, mostly on layups and dunks.