SALT LAKE CITY — Both Al Jefferson and Gordon Hayward used the phrase "shock the world" when talking about the Utah Jazz toppling the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
The ensuing tremor, no doubt, would be felt from the Beehive State to Texas to Liechenstein (and, oui, even in France, Argentina and the U.S. Virgin Islands).
"San Antonio," Big Al said, "is a great team."
That's why as challenging as it was to make the playoffs — which begin Sunday in San Antonio — getting past the Western Conference's best squad might pose an even bigger degree of difficulty for this postseason's surprise entrant.
And not just because of the Alamo City's Mount Rushmore of NBA championship producers: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich.
"It's a type of team that we had to pull out a miracle to win without their Big Three," Jefferson said, referring to the Jazz's come-from-behind 91-84 win over a Spurs team that played without a resting Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. "It's a well-coached team, very professional and do what it takes to win."
And win a lot.
The Spurs enter this postseason having won 10 straight — their third double-digit winning streak of the year.
With the consistency, execution and experience of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili combined with seemingly unfair depth, San Antonio managed to win 50 games for an NBA record 13th consecutive year.
In a shortened season even.
"It's not going to be easy," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, whose team lost three of four to San Antonio this season. "We can't go any less than 100 and whatever percent because they're going to be ready."
The eighth-seeded Jazz (36-30) expect the top-seeded Spurs (50-16) will be especially ready after what happened last year at this time. In 2011, then-No. 8 Memphis shocked the world — from the Riverwalk to The Gambia — by eliminating 61-win San Antonio in the first round.
"As we're talking about it, you think they don't mention it? I think their antennas will be up," Corbin said. "It will make it tougher this year because of what they went through last year."
What else will make the Spurs tough on the Jazz?
"Everything," Jefferson said. "Everything."
"It's a lot on my mind," Corbin said.
That everything and a lot include:
— An offense that leads the league in field-goal shooting (47.8 percent) and 3-pointers (39.3 percent), ranks second in scoring (103.7 points per game) and dishes out the fourth-most assists (23.2 per outing).
— Duncan's offensive effectiveness, even at 36 years old, and his mind-boggling skills in the post and off the glass, which annoy opponents more than his stunned facial expressions irk fans.
— Parker's pesky penetration abilities and smooth quickness combined with an improved outside shot.
— Ginobili's all-around talents — Corbin respectfully called him "another animal" — from his sharpshooting on the perimeter to his interior moves to his athletic creativity (not just flopping, either).
"They're very crafty. They read each other so well. They just come off and know where the other guy is because they've been through it all before," Corbin said. "So we have to really make sure that the guy that's guarding those three guys are focused on guarding those guys first and then making adjustments as the pick-and-roll stuff comes about."
Countering the Spurs' explosiveness, Corbin said, will require individual defensive responsibility and quick rotations to close in on outside shooters, and focus.
"We've got to be aggressive in everything we do," the first-time playoff head coach said.
"They're going to execute, so we've got to really key in on defense," Jazz small forward DeMarre Carroll added. "We've got to (play) defense and let it lead to easy offense. I feel like if we can scramble around and get easy defensive plays and contain Tony Parker we could beat them."
Then there's trying to outwit Popovich, who has four NBA finals rings (with Duncan), an uncanny command of the game, an ability to adjust his plan to thwart opponents' strengths, control the tempo, throw in a wide variety of player combinations and a talent of working the referees.
"I don't know if there's a better opponent to learn from," Corbin said.
Throw in that depth that begins (but doesn't end) with DeJuan Blair, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Jackson and Matt Bonner, and the Spurs have enough versatile weapons to beat you inside, outside and in between.
Most concur with Hayward and Jefferson that it might "shock the world" if the Jazz win the series — let alone more than one game. But it wouldn't be that much of a shocker if the smooth-as-ever Spurs go on to add another Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy to their set of four.7 comments on this story
"Paul (Millsap) was saying, 'Oklahoma City can beat you with two to three guys. San Antonio can beat you with the whole team,' " Jefferson said. "We can't afford to sleep, relax, at any given time in this series."
(1) San Antonio vs. (8) Utah
1: Sunday at San Antonio, 11 a.m., ESPN
2: Wednesday at San Antonio, 5 p.m., TNT
3: Saturday at Utah, 8 p.m., TNT
4: May 7 at Utah, TBD, TNT
5: x-May 9: at San Antonio, TBD
6: x-May 11: at Utah, TBD
7: x-May 13: at San Antonio, TBD