Utah’s improbable season after the loss of Gordon Hayward just received its capstone achievement: a playoff berth. With today’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Utah Jazz clinched their second playoff berth in as many years. While last year’s Jazz team was the first Jazz team since the Corbin lockout year team led by Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson to make the playoffs, this year’s team was written off before the season began.
Most of us—myself and most of our site included—had written this Jazz team off either before the season or by January after the Atlanta Hawks loss. But the Utah Jazz have proven everyone wrong while going on win streak after win streak to amass a 28 and 5 record over their last 33 games to get to 12 games over .500 and clinch a playoff berth. For those that believed this was possible in January, kudos to you. We will gladly eat all the crow you serve us.
The Utah Jazz have been led by a rookie phenom scorer from the University of Louisville, Donovan Mitchell, and a defensive juggernaut at center, Rudy Gobert. Joining them was a roster of misfit toys that would make Billy Beane proud. Role players like Jonas Jerebko, Thabo Sefolosha, Jae Crowder, Ekpe Udoh, and Raul Neto have aided Utah in this playoff push. Ricky Rubio has become more than just a pass-first point guard. Joe Ingles has become more than just a floor spacer who camps in the corner.
This rag tag team of misfit toys has not only learned how to play together, but dominate as they have become road warriors not fearing where they’re playing or who they’re playing—unless it’s the Hawks.
Quin Snyder has done one hell of a job this season. The Utah Jazz’s turnaround started on January 22nd when the Utah Jazz were a whopping nine games under .500. With Utah now guaranteed to finish the season at least 12 games over .500 even if they lose out, they will now hold the record for the best late turnaround for any team in NBA history. The past team to make this kind of dramatic turnaround was the Miami Heat who unfortunately fell short of the playoffs last year. Utah’s comeback this season will top Miami’s in the annals of history. What an amazing season!
No one wants to talk about Gordon Hayward’s free agency at a time of celebration, but I think it’s necessary for context of this season. I said this at the time of his leaving.
We didn’t deserve this. Quin Snyder didn’t deserve this. Rudy didn’t. Dennis Lindsey didn’t. Utah didn’t deserve this. We played the game, the season, the offseason, and the draft to perfection. And for what? For Gordon to prove once again that Utah fails to retain star talent because of a small market. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. No matter how hard the Utah Jazz organization works they are left with the same result.
The pain of that day doesn’t even resonate. It feels like years ago. If the Jazz struggled throughout the entire season, it’s very real that the wound for most Jazz fans would not have healed. Now? The inevitable time loop has been broken. When asked what would have to happen for Utah to be good this year, this is what we said.
We’re looking for any silver lining available to purge ourselves of the pain of Gordon Hayward leaving Utah. Donovan Mitchell needs to be in the Rookie of Year conversation at the end of the year, Dante Exum must start to meet the expectations of a No. 5 lottery pick, Ricky Rubio has to orchestrate a Spurs-ian offense, and Rudy Gobert needs to lead this team to the best defense in the league and a playoff spot.
We just want to not feel sentenced to a lottery year because Gordon Hayward wanted to wear green.
To borrow a phrase from Wayne’s World, this was the “Super Mega Happy Ending”. Honestly, when I wrote that, I was almost vindictively writing it to prove a point that way too much stuff had to go right for the Jazz to be successful. The task looked as tall as Mt. Everest at the time, yet here the Jazz are. Donovan Mitchell looks like a rookie of the year candidate. Dante Exum since returning from injury looks like a 5th pick. Ricky Rubio is orchestrating a Spurs-ian offense while having an offensive renaissance of his own. Rudy Gobert is leading the best defense in the league and will most likely be a defensive player of the year. If we were to write the script of this season in October, Disney would throw it out because it wouldn’t have been grounded in reality.
This year has been so much fun. From the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. The Jazz organization deserved this after Hayward leaving. The Jazz fanbase deserved this after feeling like a second banana to a large market team in Boston. Most of all, this Utah Jazz team deserves this with how hard they’ve fought to return to the playoffs and improve. Unlike last year, the Utah Jazz won’t be pushing to get further in the playoffs to placate a pending free agent on their potential success. No. This year, Utah will be in the playoffs and just scratching the surface of their potential as a Western Conference playoff team with a young rookie guard and defensive center. This is the chapter two of an entirely new story.
The Utah Jazz are back in the playoffs and the future is bright.