I also figured the Nuggets would give it one last try before summer vacation. Unless the Jazz jumped all over them in the first quarter, Denver probably wouldn't be inclined to bro-hug the season goodbye. Carmelo Anthony wanted to envelop his head with a headband at least once more. Chauncey Billups wasn't ready to stop lubricating his entire body, even if the KY purchases are adding up (as they often do towards the end of the long season). JR Smith needed a few more days of freedom before orchestrating his next run-in with officers of the law. Arron Afflalo would like a little more time to work on getting his personality in offseason shape so he can further maximize the benefits of being one of the most handsome fellows in the NBA.
I knew there was too much at stake for the Nuggets to simply bow down to His Majesty (Sloan), but what the earth was that fourth quarter? Deron Williams took the first path he saw to the basket--EVERY SINGLE TIME. Well, almost. When he did let other Jazz touch the oversized-inside-out cantaloupe (a basketball is not a pumpkin), they did their best to get quick, unwise shots off (Kyle Korver, CJ Miles) or miss (Paul Millsap, even Carlos Boozer a few times).
Utah fell apart mentally and physically after hanging in the game in the 3rd quarter, despite the Nuggets best efforts. Williams was sucking air (along with sucking it up). Boozer let himself get lost. Matthews, Korver and Miles weren't taking turns screwing up. Millsap kept missing lay-ups.
Game 5 reminded me of the 3rd quarter of the 26 March loss to the Indiana Pacers, which I was listening to the on 1320 KFAN. Jazz play-by-play announcer David Locke was making a rook mistake and not announcing the time left in the game. It is an intangible that will come more natural next year. Anyway, he was all but declaring the game over, Jazz win. I honestly thought the game was in the final three or four minutes. I think he called Williams the "king of the world" once. Slowly the Pacers slimmed the lead. No worries from him, so no fear grew within me. I think I heard him start winding up his wires, Urbanspooning on his smart phone for a place to eat after the game, and Googling the lyrics to Ke$ha's "Tik Tok" for new phrases to use in his play-by-play.
(My favorites: "got up like P. Diddy" after a dunk, "Don't stop, make it pop" and "D-Will blow my speakers up" when Williams does anything good [these line would be further enhanced if preceded with the word "please"], and "Tick, tock on the clock, but the party won't stop" when the Jazzmen have a nice little run going)*.
It turned out that the game was only in the 3rd quarter. Indiana kept chopping down Utah's lead, then, Timber. By the time I arrived home, the Jazz were down by double digits, and it never got any better. The Pacers won, 122-106.
The Jazz up three games to one is similar. A lot of people were calling the series over. Even after the loss, people aren't worried. Salt Lake Tribune columnist Kurt Kragthorpe wrote the next day that "winning was basically optional" for the Jazz. Rather than worry about the Nuggets putting the Jazz in a Game 6 that is Game-7-like, like he did in today's paper, I think Kragthorpe was too busy "talking about everybody getting crunk, crunk." (Ke$ha, again)
True, the Jazz could afford to lose Game 5, but they played like a team that knew they didn't have to win. I'm sure they wanted to win, but the didn't seem ready to grind for a win. This is what irked me.
Every single playoff game is important. Trust me, I'm a Yankees fan. If Game 4 wasn't blown in 2004, then Game 5, Game 6 and Game 7 never happen. Curt Schilling never uses the clubhouse ketchup as a dramatic device. Bill Simmons never parlays that win into thinking he is the world's absolute expert on everything, and the first two chapters of his Book of Basketball probably aren't written in a way that makes me like Larry Bird a little bit less.
What if JR Smith and Carmelo Anthony are white hot grease fires of pure entertainment and can't miss tonight? Even if all Jazzmen play well, they'll probably lose by double digits.
What if Nene-less Nuggets are better suited to beat Utah? With him out, the Denver lineup gets long and lean. Although I still don't understand it, Mr. Boozer and Killsap have a hard time with tall, thin dudes. As good as everyone makes Andrew Bynum out to be, the Jazz do better against the Los Angeles Lakers when he is in the lineup, which he rarely is (I'm 50/50 that Phil Jackson makes up Bynum injuries when the Lakers play the Jazz). (Best case scenario, the Nene-less Nuggets will be a good warm-up for Booze and Kill's 2nd-round match-up with L.A.)
With Buh-Buh-Buh-Billups, Melo and Smith, Denver is always a threat to play so well that they are unbeatable. The Jazz cannot assume they will win just because of how tough it is to play at ESA. If they do, this series might end up like that Indiana game in late-March.
* = Despite his weird dedication to downplaying Big Impact's good performances, I like Lockheim. I believe he raised the standards of a set-in-their-ways SLC media. His play-by-play has improved throughout the season. It's so odd not hearing Hot Rod Hundley, but Locke should be pretty good once he finds his voice. The Lady GaGa on Boozer's block, then slam vs. the Celtics was deplorable, though.
Speaking of JR Smith, Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla wrote this after the Nuggets Game 5 win:
Now here is one small, revealing scene that tells you that Denver might be as sweet as a Twinkie, but also full of fluff at its core.
It was halftime of Game 3 in Utah, with the Jazz on the way to a 2-1 lead in the series. J.R. Smith emerged from the visitors' locker room and began warming up his shooting arm, as players have done since the NBA's infancy.
But here's what was odd: Smith decided he would practice bouncing the ball in the basket. Not just once or twice. In a stunt indicating he might have a promising future as a team mascot dressed in a goofy, furry suit, Smith pounded the ball off the floor toward the rim at least a dozen times.
On the Utah bench, veteran coach Jerry Sloan and his Jazz assistants could barely suppress laughter as Smith made a joke of the warm-ups. This childish display did not go unnoticed by a Nuggets official, and it made him fume with anger.
So go ahead and scream your fool head off in appreciation for the thunder dunk by Smith in the fourth quarter, a slam that rattled the rim and stamped the exclamation point on Denver's victory in Game 5.
Smith represents exactly what these Nuggets are: fool's gold.
Beautiful. I think Kiszla just made JR Smith's list of things to do in the offseason.