SAN ANTONIO Every NBA team strives to play into June, to chase the big-money prize.
The Jazz came up two days and a few bucks short, breaking down on all fronts Wednesday night and bowing out of the NBA's Western Conference finals with a 109-84 Game 5 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
San Antonio took the best-of-seven series 4-1, denying the Jazz what would have been their first trip to the NBA Finals since 1998 and giving itself a chance to capture its fourth league championship since 1999.
The Spurs did it in convincing fashion, too, taking advantage of Utah's many woes to pile up a 19-point, opening-quarter lead and settle into what had to be a rather enjoyable ride.
It was more like a rollercoaster spinning out of control.
"I don't think guys were ready to play," point guard Deron Williams said after no one from Utah, which shot just 38.2 percent from the field, managed more than 13 points. "And I think guys wanted to go home, maybe thought the season was over after last game."
The Jazz appeared to play with little passion from the start "We came out with no enthusiasm at all," reserve forward Paul Millsap said and paid for it by the end.
Perhaps it was because so much uncertainty hovered overhead.
The Jazz played the first half not knowing when starting shooting guard Derek Fisher, who spent the day in New York while his 11-month-old daughter Tatum underwent further treatment for her childhood eye cancer, would arrive.
He did show, but not until halftime. By then, San Antonio was up 55-39 and not about to be caught the way the Jazz were going.
They played with Williams hobbling on a sprained right foot, one which had his availability status in doubt until he took the floor for opening tip at AT&T Center.
And they played with virtually none of the pride that got them to their first conference finals since John Stockton and Karl Malone steered the ship.
"We came out with not much energy from the start, not much fight," Williams said. "That probably shouldn't happen in a game like this, in a game of this magnitude, in front of the whole world."
It did, despite the desperate efforts taken by Jazz coach Jerry Sloan to stop Utah's bleeding including using both seldom-used No. 3 center Rafael Araujo and rarely seen rookie Ronnie Brewer for long stretches.
Sloan went to such extremes in part because of the struggles of both starting center Mehmet Okur, who played less than six minutes in the second half and sat for the entire fourth quarter, and Gordan Giricek, who opened in Fisher's place but wound up with just five points in 22 minutes.
No matter what he tried, though, failed to make up for the ground Utah lost so early, as San Antonio's lead never dipped below 16 points after the break and never was under 20 during a final quarter in which it soared to as high as 29.
Spurs star Tim Duncan, in fact, matched point guard Tony Parker for game-high scoring honors with 21 yet neither played more than 29 minutes.
And with that, the Jazz were left with little choice but to face reality.
"We had a pretty successful run in the playoffs. It got cut short by a better team," Williams said. "We didn't have a lot of things go right for us this series, and we got beat pretty handily, pretty easily by a better team."Comment on this story
"The season's over. We can't look back and say, 'If we did this,' or whatever," forward Matt Harpring added. "It's time to take your hats off to them and say, 'You know what? They're a good team.'"
Harpring agreed with Williams that the Jazz's only win Wednesday might have been the lesson realized.
"We can learn things from this team how to play together, how to play for each other," Williams said.
"We know (now) what it takes to be a champion," Harpring added, "and it puts a fire in you for next year."
Even as he said that, though, a few embers refused to die."There's just that smell," Harpring said, "of 'you're close.' That's what makes it tough."