Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — After losing their playoff opener by double digits to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, then flying back home to spend a couple of days trying to regroup before Game 2 of their first-round series on Wednesday night, you certainly could've forgiven the Utah Jazz for being a bit grumpy on Monday morning.
But guess what? They weren't, not grumpy at all.
No, instead, after dropping a 106-91 decision at San Antonio to snap Utah's five-game winning streak, the Jazz were surprisingly upbeat before hitting the practice floor at Zions Bank Basketball Center.
Oh, sure, they were disappointed with the defeat, and it's not like anybody was doing cartwheels about being down 0-1 against the No. 1 team in the Western Conference.
They're well aware that if they're going to have any chance in this series, they must do a better job of defending Spurs point guard Tony Parker, who slashed through Utah's defense for 28 points and eight assists. They know they've got to clamp down on defense, that they've got to cut down on their turnovers, and that they've got to make more shots.
But there was no gloom-and-doom despair, no fed-up frustrations, no players snapping at reporters' repetitive questions.
It was almost as if you could hear venerable Jazz coach Jerry Sloan saying, "If you're a competitor, you want to lose the first game of a playoff series, just to see what you're made of …"
Indeed, a day after Sunday's series-opening setback, there was almost a feeling of — could it be? — hope.
"I have all the confidence in the world we'll play better on Wednesday," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, whose young squad included seven players who had never experienced an NBA playoff game before Sunday. "It's the first dance for this group to go through the playoffs. Their team's been through it several teams, they've been together for a while.
"We weathered the storm pretty good, we just didn't finish it off. I feel very good about us coming back on Wednesday and playing a better game, but it's not going to be easy. We've got to make sure we clean up the things we need to clean up and come in with an attitude that we're gonna attack these guys.
"We have to play harder, we have to play better and we have to play smarter," Corbin said. "We had a chance, we were right there, man. … We just didn't take advantage of our opportunities and we never really got a consistent rhythm going. We were close enough, we can compete with these guys. We've just got to clean up some things and we'll be fine."
In order to really be "fine," however, the Jazz need to find a way to contain Parker, who repeatedly drove hard-and-fast to the basket for layups or cleverly dished off to a teammate to give them an easy shot of their own.
"He's seen it all," Corbin said of the Spurs' slick point guard, an 11-year veteran who averaged 18.3 points and a career-best 7.7 assists per game during the regular season. "You have to give him different looks, you have to make sure you're determined to keep him out of the paint and just do what you can.
"… But when you keep him out of the paint and you put two guys on the ball, he'll send somebody else going to the basket. You've got to make sure you try and handle him as much as you can but not let the other guys kill you at the same time."
Parker's counterpart, Utah point guard Devin Harris, had a relatively quiet performance, scoring just seven points on 3-of-9 shooting from the field with just two assists.
"We've got to get him to use his speed more," Corbin said. "He's got to be aggressive in pushing the ball down the floor. We've got to get him in some more pick-and-roll opportunities and put the ball in his hands a little bit more, maybe get him to come off the baseline a little bit and get some running plays with him having the ball.
"He got off to a slow start, but he'll be fine … he'll respond."
If the Jazz hope to knock off the Spurs in this series, Harris has to be more of a factor on the offensive end of the floor — and try to slow down Parker on the defensive end.
"We've just got to make him take a few more perimeter shots, keep him out of the paint as much as we can — easier said than done," Harris said of his difficult defensive assignment against the lightning-quick Parker. "We'll try to figure out a way.
"He's a challenge all around. He does a great job of getting in the paint, they run great stuff for him, and we've got to try and make him play a little more defense, try and limit his transition opportunities, limit his layups and maybe give him a hard foul or two."
Harris pointed out that, in defending the Spurs' offense, it's dangerous to make things congested in the middle to prevent Parker from penetrating.
"They spread the floor for a reason," he said. "They put shooters out there — the Matt Bonners, the Stephen Jacksons — and they make shots and make it tough to pack that lane. And that's why they run the stuff that they do. They're a good team for a reason."
Veteran swingman Josh Howard, who was reinserted into the starting lineup for Sunday's series-opener, said Parker's stellar Game 1 performance was simply a continuation of his strong regular-season showing.
"This entire season, he's been aggressive," said Howard, who struggled through a scoreless 0-for-4 shooting effort in just his third game back after missing more than a month of the regular season with a knee injury that required surgery. "With Tim (Duncan) being out and Manu (Ginobili) being out the majority of the season, he's been the guy who's been there and stepping it up and eventually led them to one of the best records in the NBA (50-16).
"I knew that was going to carry on into the playoffs, and he asserted himself yesterday and it was a tough game for us. But we've got to figure out a way to stop him."
If not, though, this will wind up being an awfully short-but-not-sweet series for Utah — and then the Jazz will no doubt be feeling pretty darned grumpy after all.
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