Utah Jazz: 'Proud' team suffers stinging loss to end up-and-down season
Danny Johnston, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Wednesday's game was a microcosm of the 2012-13 season for the Utah Jazz.
They played hard, but had hardships that nullified effort.
They had some success, but stumbled on the road.
And, ultimately, they came up short of their goal.
As a result of an underwhelming showing and an 86-70 blowout to the Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum, the Jazz will miss out on the playoffs for only the fifth time in 30 years.
"It hurts," Jazz point guard Mo Williams said.
"It's kind of depressing," Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward added.
It's also over in mid-April — about the time Jazz seasons used to just be getting fun.
"It's disappointing any time you don't make the playoffs. It's a goal we make at the beginning of the year," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "It's always disappointing when you don't go. We had an opportunity to go, and we just didn't get it done tonight."
A season that began with so much promise in Jazzland at training camp in October — after last year's surprising playoff run and touted improvements in previous weak spots — ended with a return ticket to Lottery Land.
But with soft, depressed voices and visible disappointment in their demeanor, the Jazz grasped to put a warm-fuzzy feel on the season's bitterly abrupt halt.
Corbin used the word "proud" four different times during his postgame interview while talking about his team, which won nine of 11 games before the Memphis meltdown to keep postseason hopes alive until the enticing last night.
"There were opportunities for us to go the other way. The guys just hung in there," Corbin said. "We didn't have our best game tonight and that's still disappointing, but this group of guys I'm really proud to have worked with."
It was also a group of guys that had a tight bond even in difficulties and that tried to make the most of the present despite having nine free-agents-to-be — possibly 10 — with unsettled futures.
"We are disappointed, of course, because we lost the game and didn't get a chance to make the postseason," Jazz center Al Jefferson said.
"But overall (for) the whole season, I just think everybody should keep their heads up because we should be proud of ourselves. There were many times this season we had the chance to tuck it in and give up, but we kept fighting and fighting to put ourselves in the position to get into the playoffs."
Instead of preparing for the playoffs, however, the organization's schedule has been simplified.
Locker cleanout is today at EnergySolutions Arena.
The NBA draft is June 27.
With this season's regression and the uncertainty of the team's roster, who knows when the next playoff appearance will be for the Jazz?
This could have been the final Utah game for four of five Jazz starters: seven-year Jazzman Paul Millsap, Big Al, Williams and Randy Foye.
That makes Wednesday's tumble all the tougher to take. The Jazz needed a win to put extra pressure on the Lakers, who beat the Rockets after knowing they'd earned a playoff berth thanks to Utah's loss.
Add one more what could've, should've, would've, didn't to the unfulfilling season.
"It is a tough time, especially to end like this," Millsap said. "We just couldn't get it for whatever reason. Some of the things that have been haunting us all season came back to bite us tonight. It is tough."
Reflective of the season, the finale got away from the Jazz after the midway point. The team that suffered through a 3-12 stretch three-fourths of the way through the year had a similar unraveling in the third quarter Wednesday.
Overall, the Jazz had too many missed layups, too many missed free throws, too many misguided shots. A two-point game at halftime turned into a 65-51 Memphis lead after three quarters.
Bringing an end to a season of missed opportunities, this finale slipped away with far too many botched chances and bobbled efforts.
The Jazz shot 32 percent from the field. They missed 8 of 11 3-pointers and only hit 17 of 26 free throws. Jefferson had a double-double of 22 points and 16 rebounds, but he was the only Utah player to hit double figures.
But the biggest problem Wednesday wasn't the Jazz's offensive ineptitude. It was the fact Utah put itself in a position that it needed to win a road game in Memphis to have an outside shot at a playoff spot.
On Feb. 19, the Jazz were seven games above .500 and had a 5 1/2-game lead over the Lakers.
Utah, which dealt with extended player absences of Williams (32 games for thumb) and Hayward (10 for shoulder), had all sorts of problems during a stretch in February and March when it lost 12 of 15 games.
The Jazz, aside from their recent three-game road winning streak, were miserably inept away from home all season, winning just 13 times outside of the 801 area code.
Even so, Corbin often complimented his club for its resiliency, which it showed while roaring back into playoff contention the past few weeks.
"When I look back at this season, I'm going to look at the uniqueness of this team where we had a lot of free agents and we had a lot of guys come together for the better," Williams said. "We could have went left easy."
Utah even showed a tinge of that tenacity against the Grizzlies. Late in the third quarter, when things were in the midst of unraveling and the Jazz were on their way to a 20-point deficit, Corbin took a timeout.
Players went to the bench with a double-digit deficit and a look of defeat on their faces.
Minutes later, Jefferson told reporters at the scorer's table, "It ain't over until it's over." The Jazz clawed back to within 10 points and had a chance to trim that to seven with four minutes remaining, but a Randy Foye 3-point attempt clanged off the rim.
With just under three minutes to go, a monster dunk by Memphis' Zach Randolph (25 points, 19 rebounds) pounded the Jazz's hopes into submission.
Though the postgame locker room was somber, Jefferson said the reality of the situation would likely settle in while the team flew home from Tennessee.
It will be even more painfully real when the playoffs start Saturday, and the Jazz aren't included.
Finishing strong is nice and all.
Playing well enough all season to make the playoffs is a whole 'nother thing.
"I don't think it really matters how you finish, how you start," Millsap said. "We're not in the playoffs. It's as simple as that."
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