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The Magical History of the Utah Jazz and the 5th Seed in the NBA Playoffs

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The Utah Jazz are 5-0 the last five times they were the 5th seed. Will they be able to make it 6-0?

NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Jazz had won seven games in a row and 12-of-13. That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised that the Jazz dropped a game they shouldn't have dropped. The Jazz lost to the Lakers and playoff seeding is becoming a little bit more clear the last week of the season.

With a Jazz loss and a Portland win we are pretty much out of the race for home-court in the first round of the playoffs. Assuming all plays out how it should, the Jazz will most likely be facing Portland in the first round of the playoffs or perhaps Houston. Neither of those teams seem like great matchups right now for the Jazz. Portland has not lost a step despite their injuries. Jusuf Nurkic is out for the season with a horrific leg injury and CJ McCollum returned for his first game since March 6th. Portland has seen help from Enes Kanter and Rodney Hood. Houston would not be a desired first round opponent either for the Jazz. Last year the Rockets beat the Jazz 4-1. It really was not a close series. The Jazz might even look worse against them this year without Dante Exum’s defense on James Harden. However, it is the playoffs and really anything can happen, especially the unexpected.

Assuming the Jazz stay in the 5th seed, let’s look back at the Jazz’s last five playoff series being the 5th seed.

In the 2006-2007 season the Utah Jazz shocked the world by starting the season hot, very hot. The Jazz went 12-1 in their first 13 games. The Jazz would go on to be crowned the Northwest Division champions and earn the 4th seed in the playoffs. In 2007 however, the division winner no longer meant automatic home-court. The Jazz were the 4th seed by winning their division but they were basically the 5th seed because they did not have home-court.

Going into the series with the Houston Rockets, the Jazz were the heavy underdogs. They were the new kids on the block who were facing the ever popular media darlings, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. McGrady before the series, interviewed with Steven A Smith. McGrady said “If we don’t win this series, its on me.” Steven A and McGrady went on to yell a bunch and scream a lot, pumping McGrady up to get out of the first round for the first time. Steven A Smith also made fun of the Jazz, claiming who do they have. They also made fun of Mehmet Okur of all players.

As a Jazz fan I was infuriated. I knew the series would be hard but in my heart of hearts I thought the Jazz could pull it off. Earlier in April of that year the Jazz beat the Rockets in Houston in a close matchup. I believed at the time that would give the Jazz confidence to win in Houston. I knew if we could get one win on the road we would have no problem winning our home games. Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams were unbeatable in Salt Lake. The Jazz lost the first two games in the series, the games were close but they were unable to pull them off thanks a lot to unfavorable calls and lack of experience. Despite being down 0-2, I was not upset (surprising, I know).

The Jazz came home and took care of business. They clearly looked like the better team. In Game 3 Carlos Boozer lead the way with 22 points and with strong contributions from the bench from Matt Harpring and Gordan Giriceck, the Jazz won. Yao Ming had to go to the line 26 times, 26 times, to even make the game respectable. Okur played some of the best defense of his career that series. Ming was clearly frustrated. In Game 4, our young, second year player, Deron Williams took charge with 25 points and 7 assists. Game 5 was one of the hardest losses of the series. Jazz took the lead early in the game and even had the lead going into the 4th quarter before losing by 4. Many thought that the Jazz lost their opportunity to win one on the road. That this loss was the series. The Jazz however, went on to dominate at home again in Game 6. The series was tied 3-3.

Game 7 in Houston was an instant classic for Jazz fans. I was a bundle of nerves watching the game. Who knew what to expect from such a young team in such a big game. The Jazz came out confident. They took the lead 4-2 and lead the entire way until mid-way into the 4th quarter. Things started to turn for the Jazz. Jazz who had dominated the boards the entire series started to give up offensive rebounds. The Rockets were also getting to the line. Things were not looking good for our Jazz. The Jazz however did not give up. Andrei Kirilenko made his only three of the game to tie it at 88-88. Okur made two very big threes after struggling from the field the entire series (since his focus was on the defensive end). Big rebounds and big free-throws down the stretch by Boozer and Kirilenko secured the Jazz victory.

No one gave the Jazz a chance in that series, especially being down 0-2 but the Jazz did it. They overcame all odds and beat a highly favored team without home-court advantage, including a big win in Game 7 on the road.

The following year was another time that the Jazz entered the playoffs as a 5th seed. The Jazz once again would face the Houston Rockets. This time the Rockets were still favored by most of the media but Jazz fans knew differently. The Jazz easily beat the Rockets in the first two games on the road. Let me repeat, the Jazz won the first two ROAD games of the series. There was a let up in Game 3. I was at that game. We had Rocket fans around us. It was a very very hard loss and a hard game to watch live. The Jazz would go onto win Game 4, lose Game 5 but take the series in six games. What I remember from that series was the Jazz’s ability to rebound. They out rebounded the Rockets, played with energy and played with urgency. The Jazz knew they were the better team and once again Tracy McGrady was sent home in the first round.

Edit:

Somehow I thought the 2010 Jazz vs Nuggets series was a 3-6 series. I was kindly reminded that it was also a 4- 5 series. The Jazz were of course the 5th seed. In 2010 the Jazz would face off against division and Rocky Mountain rival, the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets were the Northwest Division Champions, they had the Star in Carmelo Anthony, experience with their championship point guard Chauncy Billups. Who can forget the Carmelo Anthony’s People of Utah commercial

The Jazz would begin the series shorthanded. Andrei Kirilenko did not play and Memo went out after 11 minutes with the Achilles injury that would effectively end his career. Despite the injuries, The Jazz played well for most of the first game but could not handle Denver on their home-court in the 4th. Game 2, was once again Deron Williams time. Deron had 33 points and 14 assists! Boozer contributed 20 points and the Jazz stole home-court.

The Jazz would take care of the series in 6 games. The Nuggets were without their head coach, George Karl. Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson thoroughly outreached Adrian Dantley. The Nuggets were a deep talented team but could not keep up with the Jazz’s talent and coaching.

The Jazz would not be the 5th seed again until the 2016-2017 season. The Jazz would return to the playoffs after a long absence. The last time the Jazz had been in the playoffs it was the 2011-2012 lockout shortened season. The Jazz more backed their way into those playoffs, they won when other teams were trying to tank. As the 8th seed the Jazz were swept by the overpowering San Antonio Spurs.

In 2017 there was a hope with this playoffs that the Jazz hadn’t felt since taking care of Denver in 2010. The Jazz finished the 2016-2017 season with 51 wins. Gordon Hayward was the Jazz’s lone current All-Star. He was the Star but really most Jazz fans knew it was Rudy Gobert who was the Jazz’s best player. The LA Clippers were the 4th seed. They had all the star power with Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and the refs DeAndre Jordan.

As once again the young, unproven players, the Jazz were once again the underdogs going into the playoffs. How could Gordon Hayward and a bunch of nobodies beat the mighty LA Clippers?

The first minutes of the first game looked grim. Rudy Gobert went down the first play of the game. I had yet to start watching the game, my daughter called to me, mom come quick Rudy is hurt. I was in disbelief, I was stunned.

The Jazz did not panic. They did not grief. The Jazz would be lead by their veteran player, Joe Johnson with 21 points. Johnson looked comfortable when other players including the star panicked and looked lost. Joe Johnson of course won the game with this unforgettable shot:

The Clippers went on to win Game 2 and they would take a 2-1 lead in the series after beating the Jazz in Utah in Game 3. Chris Paul dominated and the Jazz had no answer for him. Gordon Hayward would score 40 points in a losing effort and would celebrate by eating Zupas. After Game 3 the media once again counted the Jazz out. Why wouldn’t they. Hayward, George Hill, and Joe Johnson all had big games and the Jazz came up short. Rudy Gobert was out. Why would the Jazz have any business winning another game, let alone the series?

Game 4 happened. Hayward only played 9 minutes and would eventually leave the game and leave even in the locker room to go be sick in the comfort of his own home. Things looked bleak. Rudy Gobert returned but who knows how he would play with coming back so quickly from his injury. Gobert surprised everyone, however by playing well in his 25 minutes. Joe Johnson though was the reason the Jazz won. Johnson scored a game high, 28 points and continued to make big play after big play when the Jazz needed him most.

The Jazz would win Game 5 in LA. The Clippers would win Game 6 in Utah, what a weird series! It all came down to a Game 7 in LA on a Sunday afternoon. The Jazz once again proved like they did in 2007 that they were ready. They did not look nervous, they did not look intimidated. The Jazz won this game in dominating fashion. Going into the 4th quarter the Jazz were up by 16. The announcers were so shocked they didn’t really know what to talk about during the game. They talked about the then unknowing future of the Lob City Clippers more than they did the game. The Jazz took that series 4-3 proving all the media experts wrong, again.

Not much was expected of the Jazz coming into the 2017-2018 season. Gordon Hayward, their All-Star had left for Brad Stevens and the Celtics. They “struck out” in free agency after Hayward dragged out his decision. Many thought the Jazz were starting yet another rebuild. The Jazz did not start the season well and it looked like the rebuild predictions were right. But then things changed. Donovan Mitchell became a star. Rudy Gobert came back healthy and proved why he would be the season’s DPOY. Utah finished the season in a historic fashion winning 29 of their last 35 games. The Jazz were in the playoffs and ready to make some noise. Finishing with the 5th seed, the Jazz would face the Oklahoma City Thunder. This was a series I was not looking forward to, I don’t like watching the Thunder. We lost the season series to them 1-3 and star power was once again in our opponents favor. How would a team lead by a rookie beat Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and the rest of the Thunder.

Losing the first game against OKC did not come as a surprise but the fact that the Jazz played the game so closely did. Donovan Mitchell burst onto the national playoff scene with 27 points. 27 points in his first playoff game! The Jazz won the second game, making Carmelo Anthony look silly every minute he was on the court. Taking care of home-court, the Jazz took a 3-1 lead. The Jazz could win this thing in 5 games. They could once again make the media look silly. The Jazz at one point lead 71-46, but the Thunder would come back to win the game and stave off elimination. The Jazz faced a lot of pressure going into Game 6 but answered the call. Despite Russell Westbrook’s 46 points, the Jazz would win the game and the series. Donovan had 38 points including 22 in the 3rd quarter alone. Westbrook and Mitchell battled but the better team won.

The last five times the Jazz were the 5th seed, they won. Five times the Jazz went into the playoffs without home-court. Five times the Jazz came out the victors. I don’t know if the Jazz can do it again. In all five of those series the Jazz were able to exploit a great weakness of those teams. Will the Jazz be able to do that for a magical 6th time? I believe with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert anything is possible. Stayed tuned! The last week of the regular season will be crazy, let’s see if the Jazz even finish 5th.