Let’s make this short and sour.
There are two questions that have been hanging over the Jazz for the better part of a month now, and in the case of the first, considerably longer:
• Are the Jazz good enough to win a title?
• When will Donovan Mitchell return?
And while those two inquiries may be connected, there is now a third that is every bit as important:
3. Are the Jazz tough enough?
They were mentally strong enough to make Game 1 against the Memphis Grizzles close at the end, coming back from a double-digit deficit on a poor shooting night to have a shot at winning.
But for a team with the best record in the league this season, a team that was united in chorus from the beginning that its intention this time around was and is to show what it can do when the games really matter, is being focused and forceful enough to make the score close at the end any kind of real achievement?
What just happened here is that the Jazz wandered into a game, their star guard having said he would play just hours before the opening tip, after missing more than a month with a bad ankle, and then not being either able or allowed to play, and then staggered around the floor, missing shots, blowing defensive assignments, falling behind, getting roughed up, taunted and trash-talked by an opponent that qualified for the playoffs via play-in games from the eighth spot.
The eighth spot.
What deep down from their innermost souls put the Jazz in the sorry position to allow the Memphis Freaking Grizzlies to come into their building, a place where the Jazz finished the regular season with a 31-5 record, in front of their largest home crowd in over a year, and kick them around, waggle and stick a collective index finger into the Jazz’s chest and bark straight into their face, all as the Jazz gave away their hard-earned home-court advantage in this series?
Yes, they were missing their best offensive player, just as they have been since the middle of April.
Yes, they can have an occasional bad shooting night.
Yes, they made it close at the end.
But no, the Jazz never should have given away so much so quickly.
It was the Grizzlies who were coming off two difficult games, the second one having ended less than 48 hours earlier against Golden State. It was the Grizzlies who had to travel to Salt Lake City. It was the Grizzlies who had a 38-34 record during the regular season, compared to the Jazz’s glistening 52-20 mark. It was the Grizzlies who were underdogs, supposedly fatigued.
And it was the Jazz who took a punch and stumbled backward.
And it is the Jazz who now have a whole lot to prove.
Not just to the doubters, of which there are many, evidenced by some of the previous disrespectful comments coming out of the mouths of observers from around the country, comments suggesting the Jazz are phony winners built for the regular season, not for the rugged playoff road, but much more importantly to themselves.
That proving begins with their grit and their guts.
They may miss some shots — on Sunday night they made just 25 percent of their signature 3-pointers — but they cannot whiff on a strong presence on the floor, a determined defense, a mentality that will not fold under pressure.
“If the ball’s not going in,” Quin Snyder said, “we just have to be more efficient and more locked in.”
That’s the epitome of real toughness.
We’re talking about the Grizzlies here. We’re talking about Dillon Brooks.
Who is he, who are they, to be playing roughhouse with the likes of Rudy Gobert in front of Rudy’s crowd?
It was Jerry Sloan who for more than two decades set the tone for the Jazz when it came to slugging their way through the bruising brawl that was and is the playoffs.
After a disappointing postseason loss many years ago, he looked straight ahead and said: “That’s when these players find out the most about themselves. They discover who they are, what they are.”
And when the Jazz responded with a resounding victory, he said: “[This] is what I live for — guys struggling, coming back, competing. Those are the things that are most important. That’s the best thing about being a coach. Seeing how guys react in a tough situation. Watching them fight back.”
Well. We’re about to find out who the Jazz are, what they are.
They’ve put themselves in a tough situation.
The fourth major question, the ultimate one, is: Will they fight back?
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.