Even in discussing his team's chances before the postseason began, he remained brutally honest about the prospects of beating the Lakers. "It looks pretty bleak," he said. "We're just like a little dent in the road as far as they're concerned."
That was evident before the Lakers' 113-100 win (RECAP | BOX) when the Staples Center became a sea of yellow with fans being handed bright T-shirts that read "The journey begins 4-19-09" on the front and "The destination" above a picture of the Larry O'Brien trophy on the back.
Even in the Lakers' locker room after the game, the message wasn't so much about beating Utah in Game 2 but how beating the Jazz by only 13 wasn't going to cut it after L.A. led by as many as 22 points in the first half.
"15? Not like that ..." was the note Lakers coach Phil Jackson had scrawled on the dry erase board in the locker room after the game. His point was that L.A. wouldn't win 15 more games in the postseason and win a championship if it let teams go off for 60 points in the second half.
The Lakers' identity since last season has centered on winning the NBA championship after falling two games short in 2008. The Jazz, meanwhile, are still looking for an identity one game into a playoff series that could be over quickly unless they find one overnight.
Just last week, Jazz players were questioning their identity and togetherness as they lost 11 of their last 18 games and seven of their last nine to fall to the eighth and final seed. This after they appeared to be a lock to have home-court advantage in the first round after winning 12 straight games about a month ago.
Utah's biggest problem is that the players haven't been on the same page all season and they are as streaky during games as they appeared in the won-loss column toward the end of the season. The main reason is that injuries have forced Sloan to use 20 different lineups after using just 10 last season. Even Sunday, Sloan was forced to juggle a lineup that included the return of C.J. Miles from a dislocated left finger but still left him without Mehmet Okur, who has a right hamstring strain.
While the Lakers dreaded playing the Jazz in the first round, remembering their grueling six-game series in the second round last year and hoping to avoid Utah's physicality and toughness, Sloan believes that's more of a representation of his past teams than this year's group. As he looked at the postgame stat sheet, he could only shake his head at the sight of the Lakers' scoring 55 points in the paint and 62 points in the first half.
"We've been more offensive-oriented," Sloan said. "We're not a nasty team. Most of the teams we've had here have been pretty nasty and they'll get after you from daylight to dark. We're just learning how to get after it. Part of that's my fault because I probably haven't been nasty enough with them."
Kobe Bryant, who scored 24 points and had eight assists, laughed when he was told Sloan's comments, saying, "I'm a game connoisseur so I know how nasty Sloan was when he was playing, and your [behind] would be kicked out of the league if you played that physical nowadays."
The Lakers' plan coming in was essentially to feed off the Jazz's inability to stick with their own game plan. In other words, give the Jazz open shots that L.A. knew they couldn't resist, despite the fact that Utah is not a statistically good-shooting team. The Lakers used the Jazz's misses to score in transition, opening an early lead.
"We shot 48 shots in the first half and ended up shooting 35 percent," Sloan said. "Some of those shots are makeable, but they're leaving us open for a reason -- because we're not great shooters out there. And we took some of those shots, I guess, to try and prove that we can make a shot, and consequently it didn't go well for us."
Despite stellar performances from Deron Williams, who had 16 points and a playoff career-high 17 assists, and Carlos Boozer, who had a game-high 27 points and nine rebounds, the Jazz were never really in the game.
"We kind of looked like deer in the headlights to start with," Sloan said. "I was really surprised by that. We gave up 62 points in the first half and it's virtually impossible to beat this team giving them that kind of edge."