Today is Jerry Sloan Day, and we've had a lot of nice posts and shared memories about him today here, in the comments section, and on twitter. There's more to be had in our celebration of him, but there's also a game tonight. The Utah Jazz face off against the Golden State Warriors tonight on a special night where Sloan will be honored by the franchise at halftime. This game is emotional already, but brings back memories of his first season as a Jazz head coach. It's a game at home against the Golden State Warriors. This is kind of full circle here for me. By the time the 1988-1989 season started I was a full-on, 100%, ride or die Utah Jazz fan. It was the first season the Jazz won 50 games in a) my history as a Jazz fan, and b) in the entire history of the franchise. The only coach I knew, Frank Layden, retired during the season feeling like it was a young man's game, and accepted the theory that perhaps the game had passed him on. Jerry drew first blood due to this battlefield promotion, and completed the season with a 40-25 record.
Sloan was the new coach, but I had complete trust in him because Frank had trust in him. Sloan proved that Frank was right by getting us to 51 wins. On their way to 50+ wins they swept the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls, dominated much of the Western Conference:
- 5-1 vs. San Antonio Spurs;
- 4-2 vs. the Houston Rockets;
- 4-0 vs. the Portland Trail Blazers;
- 3-3 vs. the Denver Nuggets;
- 3-1 vs. the Los Angeles Lakers;
- 3-1 vs. the Sacramento Kings;
- 3-1 vs. the Los Angeles Clippers;
- 2-2 vs. the Phoenix Suns;
- and 2-2 vs. the Golden State Warriors
During the regular season only the Dallas Mavericks (2-4), and Seattle Supersonics (1-3) gave the Jazz trouble in the West. When all was said and done the Jazz looked like a serious threat to go far. And then something horrible happened. The #2 seed Utah matched up in the playoffs against the #7 seed Golden State. The Jazz, under Sloan, had never seen playoff action before and were going up against the Warriors and Don Nelson. Nelson had coached in the league for 11 previous seasons and 88 playoff games, and was already awarded coach of the year TWICE before the season started. Jerry had three years with the Chicago Bulls to fall back on for experience, and all of the 6 games he coached in the playoffs. The series wasn't pretty, as the Jazz lost 3-0.
The first round sweep after such a promising season, hot off the 7 game series in the second round last year against Showtime, was much appreciated by the rest of the conference. Golden State would not last if they played a conventional style, so Nelson upped the tempo, and used a flat out crazy roster for the majority of the games. Don played Chris Mullen, Mitch Richmond, Winston Garland, Rod Higgins, and Terry Teagle all between 43.7 mpg and 29.7 mpg. That is four guards and one small forward. Sloan did not dare change the match-ups, and did not adapt to in game situations that needed to be addressed. Sure, if you love stats this was a great series: Karl Malone averaged 30.7 ppg and 16.3 rpg, and shot an amazing 81.3 ft%; John Stockton averaged 27.3 ppg, 13.7 apg, 3.3 rpg, 3.7 spg, and 1.7 bpg. John finished with shooting splits of .508 .750 .905 in the series. Yes, he shot 75% from downtown. Those were the only two players on the Jazz capable of playing a high tempo game for the entire game, and the only two players who could actually play defense at the other end of the court against the "smallest ball" lineup Nelson used.
Utah falling to the pathetic and cowardly Golden State Warriors in the '89 playoffs started my life long hatred for the club and for Don Nelson. Golden State was flashy, up-tempo, scored a lot, didn't play defense, didn't have any tough guys, were on TV too much, had a group of people with glass jaws, and cheapened the game. That was the conclusion the data from the last two decades of basketball supported. They were never consistently good, like Utah. They weren't tough. They always took too many threes. It was but a quantum of solace when Jerry beat Don in the playoffs years later, the much hyped "We Believe" Dubs got drubbed by the Jazz inside presence in a 4-1 gentleman's sweep. Of course, the one thing most people remember was Baron Davis dunking over Andrei Kirilenko. It's always about the flash, none of the substance with the Warriors it seems.
Well, history aside, times have changed. The Warriors, coached by sleezeball and failed usurper Mark Jackson, are looking to go to the playoffs for the second time in as many years, and for the third time in a decade. Successful seasons in the Bay are slightly more frequent than appearances of Haley's Comet. This season has the potential to be a good one for them as they are hold things down as the 7th seed in the West with a 28-19 record. The Jazz are climbing out of the cellar slowly, but are still a disgraceful 16-29, which is good enough for 13th in the conference. The Warriors are supposed to make the playoffs and made big splashes in the off-season to form a core of Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut, and Harrison Barnes. The Warriors play at the 4th fastest pace in the NBA, so some things don't change much. The big surprise is that their defense is much better than their offense. They are ranked #3 in Def RTG and only #15 in Off RTG. Their pace of play affects their bottom line stats of PPG and Opp PPG -- where Golden State ranks at #11 in both.
They are excellent from deep, where they have made the second most three pointers, taking the fifth most, and have the third best completion percentage of 38.3 3pt%. They really clean the glass with no equal on the defensive end, which powers their counter attack. It's frantic and certain players have the green light to shoot at any time. The consequence is that the Warriors can be prone to turn the ball over and all the jump shots means they don't get to the line very much.
Golden State is an impressive 14-11 on the road this season, but are currently in a downswing -- winning only 4 of their last 10 games. However, if you extend it a little further in time, right before this last 10 game stretch they did win 10 games in a row. They played last night and beat the Los Angeles Clippers. Which is a solid win because both teams have some injuries right now, but previous to that they lost to the Washington Wizards, beat the Portland Trail Blazers, and lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Indiana Pacers. You could argue that they are winning and losing the games they should be, except they aren't. This team shouldn't be losing to teams like the Denver Nuggets or Minnesota Timberwolves. Or the Wizards.
They are hard to pin down, but that's what you get when you take so many jumpers. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't. The overall impression is that this is a dangerous club, but on any given night their shots could be falling or rimming out. By that grace alone the Jazz have a shot tonight.
All-time the Jazz are a healthy 102-62 against the Warriors, and a commanding 64-18 at home. This season the Jazz and Warriors play a grand total of four times, and have played two of the four games already -- with the Warriors taking both. The Warriors beat the Jazz 102-88 back on November 16th; and then against in Utah by the score of 98-87 on November 18th. Our starting point guard for both games was Alec Burks, and I think it's obvious now to everyone that he's not a point guard. This time around the Jazz will (possibly) have Trey Burke on point. The last time these two teams played when the Jazz had Trey Burke playing -- we beat them. It was a preseason game, but we blitz them and they never recovered.
Tonight is a special game because it's a return to that dreaded Jazz/Warriors match-up that I've never forgotten. The fast, popular Warriors against a slow plodding Jazz. This time around Nelson has been replaced by Mark Jackson; and taking up Sloan's banner is Tyrone Corbin. It will be a tough matchup because right now four of the five Jazz starters could miss the game, and John Lucas III as well. No Trey Burke, Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams, or Derrick Favors makes life really hard for Ty to try to avenge his coach on the night the franchise will raise up the #1223 in his honor.
Hopefully not all of them are out. If not, it may be a good night for Ty to honor his mentor and former coach by going out there mad as heck, and get two techs. #GetThrownForSloan
No matter what, I'll hate the Warriors -- but it would be great to win tonight. You know, because that's one more loss for them that brings them closer to missing the playoffs. We own their 1st rounder this year. So I'm not going to be mad no matter what happens.
No on Jerry Sloan's Day.