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Jazz fans finally get a chance to feel the hurt

SALT LAKE CITY — Jazz fans will have to admit one thing: They’ve missed this.

The unmitigated joy. The angry chanting. The obsessing over calls.

But Friday’s 111-106 Game 3 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Clippers?

That’s gonna leave a mark.

It’s true the Jazz missed shots at the end and failed to slow Chris Paul, who finished with 34 points, 13 in the final quarter. Still, the Jazz are looking more like veterans by the minute.

It came apart in the last minute on missed free throws, poor defense and desperation fouling. But the Jazz’s newbie status isn’t lingering.

Gordon Hayward, whose postseason production has been mediocre until now, was mostly unstoppable, scoring 40 points. The Jazz looked every bit the understaffed but dangerous playoff underdog.

Regardless of who wins this series, the Jazz lately have been basking in unusual (for them) acclaim. For the past four seasons they’ve been a non-story. But quietly they have brought back some of the national media attention. It started during the regular season when George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw proved their offseason arrival was a good thing.

After winning Game 1 in Los Angeles, suddenly the Jazz were back to being slightly in style — something that hasn’t happened since Deron Williams left … or before.

In chronicling the Clippers’ need to succeed now, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell wrote, “And this year brings an even more sinister feeling, in that the behemoth standing in their immediate path isn’t the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets. This time, it’s the Utah Jazz, whose development has remained in the slow cooker until now.”

Trust the Clippers to turn off the grill.

And did someone actually refer to the Jazz as “behemoth?”

As for the Clippers, they’re based in the same town as “TMZ." They don’t have distractions. They have “Thursday” or “Friday.” In 2016, Blake Griffin broke his hand in an altercation with an equipment manager. He broke his kneecap in his rookie year, 2009. In 2013, the Clippers blew a 2-0 lead in the playoffs. In 2014, they wasted a seven-point lead with 49 seconds left in a playoff game.

Then there was the sordid mess that ended with the team being sold to its current owner.

After two mediocre games to begin the playoffs (12-for-33 shooting), there was a fair share of concern over whether Hayward would ever get going against L.A.’s Luc Mbah a Moute. But Hayward put that on ice by scoring 21 first-quarter points, making seven of eight shots.

It got so ridiculous that the Clippers’ Raymond Felton hooked Hayward’s arm like a square dancer, just to keep him from going to the rim.

“Gordon’s played against a lot of good defenders all year at that position," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, later adding, “I believe in Gordon.”

Hayward was good enough to make everyone believe in woodland pixies and the Tooth Fairy, too.

The Jazz made 11 of their first 15 shots to lead 34-21 after a quarter.

After sitting out the start of the second quarter, Hayward came in and made his first shot attempt. Though L.A. cut its deficit to eight, a 3 by Joe Ingles brought it back to 11. It could have been 12, but he missed the free throw. Crazily, he threw an air ball on his next try.

That seemed to characterize the Jazz’s effort. They were great in the early going, yet couldn’t completely pull away. Their shooting chilled, their rhythm hesitated. The lead melted to two with three minutes left in the half. They shouldn’t have been surprised. Cleveland came back on Indiana on Thursday, overcoming a 26-point deficit.

But the Jazz didn’t panic. They gradually built the lead to nine by the break.

Hayward got back to his rhythm on a 3-point play early in the third quarter. But quickly the mood darkened at Vivint Arena as the lead evaporated. A swipe to the face of Ingles. Boo! A questionable foul on a Clippers’ drive. Hisssss! A foul called on a drive by Mbah a Moute. Boooooooooo!

Euphoria turned to apprehension.

Then it was a veteran playoff team against one that — in spite of several veterans — just got here.

Hayward finished up the third quarter like a legend: a screaming dunk that drew a foul, followed by a mid-range fade. For all that, the Jazz led by just two going into the fourth quarter.

Then the most improbable thing ever happened.

Raul Neto got a standing ovation for two baskets in the early fourth quarter that helped move the Jazz ahead by five.

Fans were on their feet to the end. And went home hurting. But it’s been a long time since anyone got to feel that way.