The Utah Jazz, despite all the ups and downs, finished with 51 wins. In the over four decades of Jazz basketball we’ve seen this happen two other times, in 1988-89 and again in 2006-2007. Both were monumental years in terms of building the Jazz mythology. Will 2016-2017 be as well? Only time will tell, but time has passed on the ‘89 and ‘07 NBA Playoffs. So let’s look back at those Jazz teams.
The 1988-89 Utah Jazz (51-31):
This one hurts. This was Jerry Sloan’s first year as head coach of the Utah Jazz after Frank Layden stepped down mid-season. Frank started the season off 11-6, and Jerry finished it 40-25. The Jazz had the #1 DRTG in the league, and the #1 O.PPG as well. The team’s offense was middle of the pack, but everyone was hyped for this team. This was the team that took the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers to seven games in the second round the Playoffs previous.
And they got worked in the playoffs by the coward Don Nelson and his 7th seed Golden State Warriors. He knew he couldn’t handle the Jazz’ size (Mark Eaton, Thurl Bailey, Karl Malone, just for starters). So he went small ball. Small ball in the 80s. Nelson went with PG Winston Garland (38.7 mpg), Mitch Richmond (43.0 mpg), Chris Mullin (43.7 mpg), Terry Teagle (29.7 mpg), and Rod Higgins (35.7 mpg) for the three games. Those five guys were 6’2 to 6’7 in height. One PG, two SG, two SF. Bull crap.
For me this really hurt me bad and helped form my lifelong hate of the coward, tricky, weak, Golden State Warriors. If they fought like men they would have died like men. Instead they back-stabbed the Jazz and advanced, only to get destroyed by the Phoenix Suns in the next round.
This was a great draw for the 51 win #2 seed Jazz. They could have gone to the West Finals years before it happened in real life. They would have jump started their contention. Instead it was my first real lesson with being a fan and learning real fan pain.
The 2006-07 Utah Jazz (51-31):
We all know this group. Deron Williams. Andrei Kirilenko. Carlos Boozer. Mehmet Okur. They were the 4th seed but did not have home court, the Houston Rockets did. And this was one of the rare cases where the under-dog (and even TNT was rooting for Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming here) takes it to the limit and wins, on the road, in Game 7. Utah was down 0-2, but would go 4-1 in the next five. Respect that.
Andrei Kirilenko made that crazy three pointer. Gordan Giricek and Memo were disrupting their pick and roll in the fourth quarter. Deron Williams was emerging. And Carlos Boozer was out rebounding Yao in crunch time, getting offensive boards, and scoring and yelling and helping the team win.
After dispatching the Rockettes the Jazz would then bounce the “We Believe” Golden State Warriors in five games - who can forget all the memories of thuggery from that cowardly team? They didn’t fully go small, but they tried to intimidate the Jazz. It didn’t happen at all. Andrei Kirilenko had 7 blocks in game one. They were pathetic. The Warriors are pathetic losers.
Utah would finish the season in the Western Conference Finals, getting their 9th win in the post season against the San Antonio Spurs. This would be the 6th time the team went to the West Finals, and the first time doing it without John Stockton or Karl Malone on the team.
The 2016-17 Utah Jazz (51-31):
The Jazz won their division this year, but are starting the playoffs on the road. Will this 4/5 series go to Game 7? If so, history tells us that they can win. Also, history tells us that if the other team is filled with cowards, it could be a really short series.
1989. 2007. 2017. All successful regular seasons. Mixed results in the playoffs. Time will tell where this team finishes. But it’s hard not to feel good about this group.