SAN ANTONIO Once the griping about the officiating in Game 4 has died down, and all those powder-blue T-shirts have been stowed and Salt Lake City goes back to being plain old Salt Lake City rather than Mad House Central most Jazz fans will have to admit: It was quite a run.
All of it. The mood swings. The referee baiting (Steve Javie has become the new Dick Bavetta). The nights when it just doesn't get any better, with the crowd howling and the players diving around and the volume turned all the way up.
So the Jazz are gone for 2007.
Yet in another sense, they're back.
One thing the Spurs, Mavericks, Suns and everyone else in the talent-crowded Western Conference has to know deep down in their size 18 shoes: The Jazz are coming. They're young, confident and most important, now they've had a taste. Isn't that what Jerry Sloan feared all along? That his teams would forget or never know what it feels like when every single possession counts. When the Earth seems to tilt with each possession.
So now they know.
This postseason is the stuff they'll remember when they get old.
"Once you get a taste of how good it feels," said reserve guard Ronnie Brewer, "you just want to try to get back."
When the playoffs came to an end Wednesday with a humiliating 109-84 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, it was obvious the Jazz had been overmatched and psyched out. Not enough Andrei Kirilenko, not enough Mehmet Okur, not enough of a lot of things. The season ended with the scrubs getting experience and the stars taking a long-delayed rest.
It has nonetheless been a memorable playoff run. The improbable comeback from a 2-0 deficit to Houston. Kirilenko's tearful struggle to fit into his role. Derek Fisher's lesson on facing the greatest of all fears a child's cancer with dignity.
Williams' start against Golden State, when suddenly it became clear he is everything the Jazz hoped for and more. Rookie Paul Millsap's demonstration that it's not age that matters but maturity. Carlos Boozer's unpredictable, sometimes unstoppable, left hand.
And more: The fan outside EnergySolutions Arena, wearing a Jazz retro warm-up suit, a wig, a Jazz cape and holding up a sign asking for FREE lower-bowl tickets because he couldn't afford to buy his own. (Right, we'll get those right over to you.) An angry night in Salt Lake City when fans showered Javie and other officials with debris as they left the court.
Javie, who tossed Fisher and Sloan at the end of Game 4, has become the new object of Jazz fans' scorn, replacing Bavetta, the villain of the 1998 NBA Finals.
Only in the playoffs.
It's good entertainment if you can find it.
If the Jazz were looking for excuses, there were a few of those. Williams played Monday with a case of the flu and in the process sprained his foot. He was also battling a neck stinger on Wednesday. By the end he was looking like a car with a light out, a cracked mirror, a couple of dents and a tailpipe hanging loose but still gets you where you need to go.
With Fisher arriving at halftime Wednesday, because of his daughter's hospital appointment, Sloan was asked before the game if he knew whether he'd have a full team.
"Do I know?" said Sloan. "Not right now."
Turned out he didn't have a full team. But it had little to do with Fisher's arrival or Williams' injuries but everything to do with a team that requested an early checkout. If you ask Williams, it had much to do with a few teammates taking vacation.
Still, in the end it's hard to fault what happened. For a team that finished the regular season as flat as week-old soda, it made some noise. The Jazz fashioned themselves into an intriguing picture, from their spiky-hair small forward to their burly power forward to their star-bound guard to their 3-point center and beyond.A team that now understands the vast difference between hoping to be there and expecting to go back.