Tomorrow we’ll see the Utah Jazz tip off against the Los Angeles Clippers in what looks like will be an exciting Game 7 in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Jazz have a number of good to great players who have had their moments this series. Gordon Hayward dropped a career high 40. Joe Johnson helped the team win two games with his clutch one-on-one play. Joe Ingles dropped a career high in assists while playing great defense. Rudy Gobert has come back from injury in his own Willis Reed moment. Everyone has contributed, from Boris Diaw to Raul Neto. Derrick Favors had to step up big time and was tested to his limit.
And that’s why this team, and the fans of this team, will have a Game 7 in the playoffs. It got to me thinking, I remember some local radio guy once suggested that Karl Malone didn’t show up in close out games. I had to look it up, because our guys are in a close out game on Sunday. So I looked at every game Karl Malone played for in a Jazz uniform in the post season. And I looked at his performances in the last three games of every series he was in, first round, second round, West Finals, and NBA Finals. From his first forays as a small forward, to his finish flourish as a PF/C.
Let’s get to it!
1986 to 1991: Pre-contenders
This period was before the Jazz got to the West finals, there were a lot of first round exits, and some strong, but sad, second round failures. There were 24 games in this period that qualifies. And the Jazz averaged 104.42 ppg, while their opponents dropped 105.08. These played against the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors (x2), Portland Trail Blazers (x2), Los Angeles Lakers, and Phoenix Suns (x2).
What did Karl do? He played 41.88 mpg (beast), and averaged 28.04 ppg (.4874 .0000 .7191), 11.50 rpg, 1.96 apg, 1.33 spg, and 0.58 bpg. He was called for 4.38 fouls a game. Even at this young age he got to the line 9.79 times each game, and never got tired. You can’t get tired when you’re shooting 21.54 FGA per game. He wasn’t just a volume shooter, he had a 1.30 PPS.
1992 to 1998: Five in Seven
When the Jazz were contenders they went to the Western Conference Finals five times in seven seasons, including two trips to the NBA Finals. Karl played in 57 games that were the last three games of a playoffs series, and averaged 42.42 mpg during them. He took it to the Los Angeles Clippers (x2), Seattle Super Sonics (x3), Portland Trail Blazers (x2), San Antonio Spurs (x3), Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets (x4), Los Angeles Lakers (x2), and the Chicago Bulls (x2).
He pounded the other team for 27.44 ppg (.4640 .1111 .7508) off of 20.72 FGA/G. His 1.32 PPS value in these closing games were crushing, compounded by getting to the line 10.91 FTA/G. The Mailman also delivered 11.44 rpg, 3.53 apg (1.38 to 1.00 assist to turn over ratio), 1.30 spg, and 0.75 bpg. The fouls were down to 3.53 per game.
There were so many 30 and 40 point games during this period. Karl knocked other teams out. And stared down their coaches while doing it.
1999 to 2003: Closing Window
The last hurrah, 21 games but only advancing to the 2nd round twice. Karl laced them up against the Sacramento Kings (x3), Portland Trail Blazers (x2), Seattle Super Sonics, and the Dallas Mavericks. He wasn’t as dominant, but still played in these 21 games and averaged 41.29 mpg. (Again, this was when he was in his late 30s.)
Karl averaged 22.19 ppg (.4241 .5000 .7568) off of 19.76 fga, and he only had a 1.12 PPS value. Karl also failed to average a 20/10 in these close out games, just 9.52 rpg. But he continued to be effective elsewhere with 3.90 apg, 0.76 spg, and 0.90 bpg. But 22 and 10 (rounding up) as a near 40 year old would be great from our guys a decade younger than him.
All together: A career of dominance
Okay, from every era, from a young stud in his first playoffs to his MVP seasons to his swan song with John Stockton . . . we’ve got 102 close out game games. And Karl averaged 26.50 / 11.06 / 3.24 / 1.20 / 0.75. He shot great, got buckets when the team needed them, and played 42.06 mpg.
I don’t get why someone would entertain the thought that Karl wasn’t clutch. Not only WAS he clutch, but the team wouldn’t have advanced through so many rounds - or even make the playoffs in the first place - if it wasn’t for him.
Is there a dominant player on this roster? I mean . . . I think we have one with Rudy Gobert. Gordon Hayward is spreading his wings right now. And Joe Johnson has done his stuff as a younger man. The over-riding feeling I have is that we really didn’t notice how out of this world Karl was when he was playing here.