“If we do this, it would mean that we’d be going in shorthanded.”
“Yeah? You mean because he killed all our friends?”
Avengers Endgame may not come out until next week, but the Utah Jazz are also experiencing the consequences of living and dying by a Mad Titan’s hand. James Harden has amassed every
infinity stone offensive move, skill, and talent. He has combined them with Daryl Morey’s Infinity Gauntlet of Moreyball. With those powers combined, the Houston Rockets are making the NBA’s mightiest defense look like your pickup team at the Y on the last game at the gym before calling it quits. Utah has been blown out in two straight games and is—so far—the only team in the NBA Playoffs that looks like they just flat out don’t belong.
Unfortunately, that’s what happens when you face your arch nemesis at their zenith. The Houston Rockets are not just relying upon James Harden, they have put together a team that has been working to find the right pieces. While Utah relied on continuity and team chemistry, Houston was running a cattle call for talent all season long as they looked for pieces that would sharpen their offensive buzzsaw. It’s easy to forget that this Rockets team had Carmelo Anthony to start out the season and had become schemeable. When that didn’t work Morey jettisoned him out quick. While Utah was preaching patience, Houston was evangelizing urgency.
It’s with that setting the Jazz return to Utah to face the Houston Rockets for at minimum two more games. Even the most optimistic fans are struggling to see how Utah is able to upset the Rockets for a single game, let alone tie the series 2-2. Donovan Mitchell has been a non factor as he has seen his spacing disintegrate. Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and most of the Jazz team has gone cold from the 3 point line. Without that spacing, Rudy Gobert has been reduced to nothing on the offensive end. In Avengers Endgame, they get a infusion of powerful talent with Captain Marvel suiting up for the fight. Utah’s Captain Marvel never showed up as Utah came up empty handed at the Trade Deadline. Utah is in the endgame now without any new tricks up their sleeve.
That forced Utah to rely on gimmicks to attempt to push Houston into making mistakes, but Utah just doesn’t have the personnel to execute it nor do they have the offensive fire power to go blow for blow. Much like the Avengers in Infinity War, they had to rely on Thanos making a mistake for a victory rather than overpowering him. Utah has no Thor walking through that door. Utah has no miracles left.
Ricky Rubio after Utah’s Game 2 shelling said, “He’s [James Harden]James Harden hard but I’m not gonna quit. We’re not gonna quit.” Utah will not quit. They will fight, but their reality is they can delay Houston ascent through these playoffs, not stop them. Like Captain America using all his power to stop Thanos’ hand for a mere few seconds, it’s admirable, but it’s a blip on the radar to a god. That sounds like a terribly pessimistic thing to say, but Utah knew that their playoffs would end like this if they didn’t upgrade. That’s why they went so aggressively for Mike Conley which—if Utah was successful—would have become the biggest midseason blockbuster trade Utah had made in their franchise history. They knew they needed more if they were to get past Houston and Golden State. They didn’t, and now they are facing at the cold reality of falling short in February.
Once Utah’s run in the playoffs ends—which could be as early as next Monday—the renovations on this roster will begin in earnest. Utah most likely will try to pick up negotiations with Memphis for Mike Conley which can no longer feature Rubio as the centerpiece, evaluate Dante Exum and his future, and decide if Derrick Favors is made to be a Jazzman for life. Utah then will be approaching NBA Free Agency trying as their final test to see if they have gained any additional clout in free agent circles. Whatever happens this offseason, one thing is certain: this Utah Jazz roster will be unrecognizable outside of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert next season.
If anything, it’s good that it’s happening this way. There’s no fool’s gold with beating a paper tiger like Denver while believing this team is better than what they really are. There’s no brutal crash when our 2nd round expectations don’t matchup with 1st round realties. The Utah Jazz front office and coaching staff is getting dealt a cold hard dose of truth by the hands of an NBA Celestial. After this lopsided tussle with one of the league’s top teams, Dennis Lindsey and his team will be damn sure that they cannot count themselves among the NBA’s elite—not yet.
This is not a call to stop rooting for your team or to abandon them when they need support the most. Rather to just enjoy the ride at this point. This roster of misfit toys that no one expected to get to a .500 record, let alone two straight playoffs, is nearing the end of its journey. It has faced the NBA’s MVP James Harden, the Mad Titan of defense, twice and fell woefully short. At this point their inability to beat the Houston Rockets in a playoff series can only be remedied in the offseason, not in the next 24 hours.
That means right now all we have is now. All we may have is just two more games to show appreciation to the team that saved Utah from ever feeling the consequences of the post-Gordon Hayward era. All we have is now to see Donovan Mitchell—the unpolished prodigy—still learning how to hone his craft. All we have is the present to see Rudy Gobert being schemed out of a game due to being surrounded by not the right personnel. All we have is now to see a team that overcame so much reach their predicted end. To be frustrated is to say we didn’t see this end coming. We did. We are in the Endgame now. Let’s live in it. Let’s enjoy the present, it’s all we have for now.