Last night started wonderfully. The crowd was in hot Delta Center form.
Fans were in their white shirts cheering their hearts out, the decibel levels were insane, and that was all before the game even began. The fans and the players were excited for the playoffs, an excitement we haven't seen in nearly a decade. I was not at the game but my heart was beating fast, my palms were sweating, I was pacing. I couldn’t sit down. I imagine I am not the only fan that felt that way despite not being in the arena. I loved that I felt that way again. I have not felt that way about a Jazz game since the 2010 playoffs. Even then there was an overwhelming shadow over the playoffs as a Jazz fan, knowing that more likely than not the Jazz would once again lose to the LA Lakers at some point in the playoffs. So the excitement was there but it was guarded.
This year there is not that Lakers shadowy gloom. The Jazz (when healthy) can compete and beat any team in the league. They don’t seem to have that inferiority mental block against certain teams like we saw with the Deron Williams/Carlos Boozer teams. Throughout the regular season the Jazz showed that they can beat any team, at anytime. They showed that they can make adjustments when injuries happen. They are a well-coached, well-disciplined team.
At the end of the regular season the Jazz showed that (even though there were not much to play for games) they could even beat the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. I am not so sure the DWill teams could do that even under the same circumstances. Those wins brought an excitement around the team. We had all of our players again (minus Raul Neto) we looked so good. We looked like a winning team who could make some noise.
When the season ended and it was official that the Jazz would be starting on the road against the LA Clippers, I was nervous. The Jazz went 2-18 against the Clippers in their last 20 meetings. I then began to think what does that matter? During most of those 20 games the Jazz were a rebuilding team, the Clippers were near contenders. Of course we wouldn’t have a great record against a team under those circumstances.
This year was different! The Jazz finished with the same record as the Clippers despite all the injuries. The Jazz were ridiculously good when we had all our starters. We went 12-3. That is just incredible. 1. That record. 2. That we only played 15 games with all our starters and we still won 51 games. Quin is good. We are good. Thinking about all of this, I realized that we are better than this Clips team and we can beat them. I had hope.
Soon the first game was here. And soon that hope was gone. The unthinkable happened in the first play of the first game, Rudy went down. Of all players, our DPOY, our everything went down. I had no hope. I was a wreck. Then the Jazz as they have all season long proved me and everyone else wrong. They won the game, on the road, without perhaps their most important player. I was ridiculously happy. I could not think about anything else. I love when a Jazz win has me feeling like that.
Game 2 was what we expected but not bad. We knew the Clippers were going to come out, we knew they were going to be emotional. This was their big, emotional home win, coming in after an unexpected home loss. And guess what? We only lost by 8. Only 8 without having Rudy Gobert. 8 without Hayward or Hill having particularly good shooting nights. 8 is nothing.
Now we are back to Game 3. We are home. The crowd is going crazy, doing all it can to support the Jazz. The players are playing well, feeding off the crowd. The first quarter was what Jazz fans dreams are made of. Gordon Hayward had 21 points in the first quarter. He looked like not only an All-Star but an All-NBA player. Hayward set the Utah Jazz record for the most points in a quarter in a playoff game. Hayward surpassed Karl Malone who had 20 points in a quarter against the Trail Blazers in 1991. The Jazz led by 13 at the end of one and looked mighty good.
For most of the game the Jazz were in control. The 4th happened and for some of it it was bad, everything was bad.
We had this:
This was called a foul on George Hill and an and-one for Chris Paul... pic.twitter.com/6lhAXAvzJk— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) April 22, 2017
And lets not forget this:
Diaw should've gotten continuation. pic.twitter.com/Yxqhi7khGt— Rey-Rey (@TheNoLookPass) April 22, 2017
But you know what. Despite all that. We had a chance to win. We were right there. We are a young team. We are playing without our Rudy and we had a chance to win! A few more shots, a few more calls and we are looking at a 2-1 lead.
My hope is not lost. My hope is stronger than its been in a long time for this team. The Jazz are the better team and it will show throughout the rest of the series. This season reminds me of the 2006-2007 season for many reasons. This series is beginning to remind me of the first round series we had against the Houston Rockets in the 2007 playoffs. Jazz started that series down 2-0. The first two games were close and the Jazz were so close to winning but they didn’t. But you could feel that they were on the cusp of something great. They came home and took care of business. They lost a close one in game 5. Maybe again a few shots here and a few calls there and we win that game. Jazz looked dominant in game 6 at home and we all know what happened in Game 7.
Obviously things are a little different with this series. We won a game on the road and lost a game at home to be down 2-1 instead of losing both on the road and coming back to win Game 3. But the feel to me is the same. We have a team that is right there. Right there in all the game. When all the national media counts them out. We are on the cusp of something great, something amazing.
In 2007 it was TMac’s turn to finally get out of the first round. Who was Memo Okur to guard the great Yao Ming? Who were these young hot shots? But Jazz fans felt it. They knew that the Jazz were the better team.
In 2017, I feel it now, with this team. We are the better team. We won 51 games despite only having our starters for 15 games total. We have a winning record on the road for the first time in forever. We have an All-Star in Gordon Hayward.
We may be without Rudy Gobert, but we are not without hope. This team has risen to the occasion all season long and they will not stop now. They will beat the Clippers tomorrow and they will win the series.