Tuesday , March 14, 2017 - 1:20 PM1 comment
The last meaningful Utah Jazz playoff run came in the 2007 NBA postseason. The run ended against the wall of consistent basketball dominance that is the San Antonio Spurs (who won the title that season). No other postseason run has meant more to the franchise since.
This season is different though. The Jazz is made up of young, talented, defensive savants who shoot the ball well and generally run a finely tuned offense. A deep run is expected — and soon. With the current iteration of the Jazz being so much better defensively, though, it’s not crazy to expect a deeper playoff run, right?
Well, not exactly.
The Western Conference is more top-heavy now than 10 years ago, and the talent level across the league is just better. Although Utah is incredibly talented defensively — and have Rudy Gobert, the most-deserving Defensive Player of the Year candidate, locked up for another three seasons — that alone isn’t enough to carry them into a June basketball schedule.
This isn’t 2004, and no version of the Detroit Pistons will dethrone the offensive juggernauts currently in charge of the association.
Now don’t misunderstand: The Jazz are great. They’re tied for seventh-best in the league, have an All-Star once more in Hayward and a better foundation and future than they’ve had since arguably that 2007 Western Conference Finals team.
The problem is the Jazz don’t play like the team they could be consistently enough to make you think they can win a seven-game playoff series. They play like the new kid at the pickup court, unsure of how they fit in with the big boys.
For a while that style of play was understandable. The blatantly terrible coaching from Tyrone Corbin — one wonders how good Hayward would be now if he’d had a better coaching situation his first few years in the league — and slow rebuild created a young, inexperienced environment.
And again, that was expected. Rebuilding the right way takes those kinds of growing pains.
What’s concerning is we’re still seeing those growing pains from a team with plenty of NBA savvy on its roster.
Monday night, though, it looked like Utah grew up. Players who had to have a great game to help the Jazz to victory stepped up to the plate and then some. The Los Angeles Clippers are known as a team that plays dirty, shoving and pushing their way to wins on the broad shoulders of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Monday night, the Jazz finally shoved back. Literally.
The past two meetings with the Clippers have resulted in horrid offensive performances, scoring 75 and 72 points total. At the end of the third quarter Monday night, Utah stood on top 89-86. The quarter ended with Jamal Crawford burying an audacious three-point shot from somewhere near Sandy, tying the contest at 86 with under 10 seconds to play.
Crawford’s three was immediately answered by Dante Exum. The crowd roared as loudly as it has in the four years I’ve covered the team.
Then the Jazz took control of the fourth quarter, playing like the big brother who has 50 pounds and two feet on his little brother.
Although the win last week over the Houston Rockets was big, this win against the Clippers means more. Utah’s a bad matchup for Houston, but the Clippers play the same low-post bully ball the Jazz do. Beating someone at your own game is one of the most impressive things to do in modern sports.
The Jazz may not be that much more talented than the Clippers — or any other team below them in the playoff picture, for that matter — but Monday night they played like it. At the risk of sounding like a former prominent college football coach, grit actually does help win games.
That attitude and confidence will win them playoff games. Maybe a series or two. And how much of it we see this postseason will finally give us a ceiling for the potential of the Hayward-led Utah Jazz.
This year’s postseason run will show what this team’s made of, and it’s arguably the most important playoff run since 1998.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and sports writer from Utah. Connect with him on Twitter and Instagram at @Spencer_Durrant.
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