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Utah Jazz Playoff History and why I hate the Golden State Warriors

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You can respect those that you hate. And hate those that you respect.

Jerry Sloan

The second round of the NBA Playoffs start tonight for the Utah Jazz. It was another good year for the team that is on the way up, winning 50 games, the division, and have crossed off another first round victory. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the second round where our boys will be tipping off against the Golden State Warriors. But what we do know is our history. And more than not, this has been about as successful as you can be without a ring.

The New Orleans / Utah Jazz franchise are in their 43th season in the NBA. They’ve made the playoffs 26 times, and failed to do so 17 times. The Jazz missed the playoffs for the first nine years of their early history and made it in their 10th, thank you Frank Layden. With that first playoff appearance (1983-1984) the team went streaking - making the post-season 20 years in a row! Utah would miss the playoffs for three years, a down period after John Stockton and Karl Malone, but before Deron Williams.

The D-Will Jazz missed the playoffs in his rookie year by just 3.0 games, but went all the way to the Western Conference Finals in his second (2006-2007). Utah would go to the post-season for four years straight, but after Williams was traded and Jerry Sloan retired things went bad. Quickly.

Tyrone Corbin made it back in his first full season with the team (2011-2012) after being 12th in the West and having four teams ahead of him tank. One of those teams was the Golden State Warriors. Keep that in mind. But that success was short lived. Utah would finally return to the playoffs this season (2016-2017), with Quin Snyder at the helm.

But all in all, the Jazz have been in the playoffs more than not (26-17), and gotten out of the first round more than not (15-11). After that getting out of the second round (and higher) hasn’t been an above .500 situation.

Basketball-Reference.com, AllThatAmar

Please note the green cell, that indicates that either the Jazz will get their 7th 2nd round victory this year, or their 9th loss. So who are these teams that the Jazz have been playing against (and mostly beating?)

Basketball-Reference.com, AllThatAmar

The Jazz have faced the Houston Rockets (7 series), Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers (6 series), and the San Antonio Spurs (5 series) the most. The Lakers and Blazers have winning records against the Jazz, but not the Rockets and Spurs.

A step down from them are the Denver Nuggets and Seattle Super Sonics. The Sonics / Jazz thing is real, while the Nuggets really haven’t been a problem. But overall the Jazz have the above .500 record in W/L, in addition to beating them in the series W/L.

The Utah Jazz have played four different teams three times in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Clippers are meaningless and have always lost. The Phoenix Suns played early Stockton and Malone teams and came away with some wins. The Sacramento Kings played late Stockton and Malone teams and did the same. The last team is the Golden State Warriors.

And the Warriors and Jazz are playing their fourth series right now, with the Dubs up 2-1. Yes, yes, we know that the Chicago Bulls prevented the Jazz from getting rings, and the Dallas Mavericks are somehow successful against the Jazz - but it’s the Warriors that I hold a special hatred for.

They’re not my most hated team (that seems to go between HOU, LAL, and POR for obvious reasons), but they are in the Top 5 for sure.

Why? It’s simple. It’s because they beat the Jazz early and often during the first few years of my Jazz fandom. I wasn’t always a Jazz fan, but I adopted them. And they just couldn’t get by the Warriors.

First Blood — 1987 NBA Playoffs: First round (2-3 Loss)

Utah won 44 games but Golden State was right behind. This was a 4/5 match-up in the first round of two somewhat even teams. Frank Layden had an amazing team though, they were #3 in pace during the regular season and #1 in DRTG. They just didn’t have a very efficient offense which translated to the other team holding the Jazz way too close to .500 than we’d want. Their top players were Karl Malone, Mark Eaton, Thurl Bailey, Rickey Green, Darrell Griffith, Kelly Tripucka, John Stockton, and Bob Hansen. But in the playoffs starting point guard, former All-Star, Green got injured and the team couldn’t handle the Warriors who won three straight games to eliminate the Jazz.

Karl Malone averaged 20.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.2 apg, 2.2 spg, and 0.8 bpg; but his team couldn’t play enough defense. Mark Eaton had a double double with 4.2 bpg. John Stockton in a part-time role had 10.0 ppg, 8.0 apg, 3.0 spg, and 2.2 spg but really the problem was stopping an older, more seasoned Golden State squad.

The Warriors had five guys averaging 15 ppg (Sleepy Floyd, Joe Barry Carroll, Purvis Short, and Terry Teagle), and their court spacing and ball sharing was too unpredictable to counter. Their one young guy in their rotation, Chris Mullin, shot .489 / 1.000 / .800. Yikes. For a team the Warriors would make 45.5% of their threes. In the mid 80s. This was future ball.

Utah got to the line more, and owned the offensive glass (35.0 ORB%), but they couldn’t contest what they couldn’t catch, and if you can’t contest you can’t defend open shots. And that’s how the Jazz lost after being up 2-0 in the series.

Second Failure — 1989 NBA Playoffs: First Round (0-3 Loss)

The year before the Utah Jazz took the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers to a Game 7 in the second round. The eyes were on the Jazz to build some franchise momentum after such a great season the year before. Utah won the division and by the rules back then, earned the #2 seed out West. They had won 51 games this season, and it was the first 50 win season in franchise history. They had so much momentum, even after the mid-season coaching change of Frank Layden to Jerry Sloan. Instead . . . they got swept out of the playoffs in three straight games. It was one of the first time the Utah Jazz were on the cover of Sports Illustrated, as far as I can remember.

I was personally devastated. This was the first time in my fan life where I was really invested in the team, and they got blitz. This was still a very good Jazz team, with the #1 DRTG in the land - you get that with Stockton, Malone, and Eaton in the starting line-up for sure. But instead of fighting traditionally Don Nelson went out and went small. I get it, he couldn’t possibly go big - his team didn’t have talent in the front court.

The most used players by Nelson were Chris Mullin (6’7 SF/SG), Mitch Richmond (6’5 SG), Winston Garland (6’2 PG), Rod Higgins (6’7 SF), and Terry Teagle (6’5 SG).

Who the hell does 7’4 Mark Eaton, All-Star, All-NBA 1st Team Defense, DPOY, guard there?

The answer was no one.

Jerry Sloan couldn’t adjust to “coward ball” (what we today call “small ball”), and his team didn’t win a single game in this series. And this is where I claim the Warriors as a “life enemy” for this life and the next one. The 7th seed ran out PG/SG/SG/SG/SF and won the series with speed and trickery. It was the Viet Cong against the US Army. Small size somehow found a way to win.

And they didn’t just win. Games one and two were close. Game three was almost a 20 point blowout. Would things have been different in a seven game series? I don’t know. But the best of five didn’t help Utah at all with the Don Nelson sneak attack.

A quantum of Solace — 2007 NBA Playoffs: Second Round (4-1 Victory)

Yeah, okay, this made me feel better.

Game 1: 116-112 UTA

  • Deron Williams 31 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 threes, 2 steals
  • Andrei Kirilenko 13 points, 7 rebounds, 7 blocks, 4 assists, 1 steal
  • Matt Harpring 21 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 9 FTA
  • Carlos Boozer 17 points, 20 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals
  • Mehmet Okur 21 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 3 threes

The “We Believe” Dubs beat the Dallas Mavericks, thanks guy! But they got pounded in the paint all series long.

Game 2: 127-117

  • Deron Williams 17 points, 14 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 three
  • Andrei Kirilenko 20 points, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks, 5 assists, 1 steal
  • Paul Millsap 10 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block
  • Carlos Boozer 30 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 14 FTA
  • Mehmet Okur 23 points, 18 rebounds, 3 threes, 1 assists, 1 steal, 1 block

This game went to overtime, but the Jazz won that period 14-4. They had 50.0 ORB% in this game. Ridiculous.

Game 3: Baron Davis did a dunk-shot! OMGWTFBBQ! I saw his nipples! Best highlight ever!

Definitely not an offensive foul. Go ahead and five forearm shivers to guys in the head.

Game 4: 115-101

  • Deron Williams 20 points, 13 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, 1 three
  • Derek Fisher 21 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 threes, 1 steal
  • Andrei Kirilenko 12 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 8 FTA
  • Carlos Boozer 34 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
  • Mehmet Okur 14 points, 7 rebounds, 1 three, 1 steal

Utah scored 40 points in the fourth quarter here to go up 3-1.

Game 5: 100-87

  • Deron Williams 2 points (bad shooting), 7 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block
  • Derek Fisher 20 points, 4 assists, 4 threes, 3 rebounds
  • Andrei Kirilenko 21 points, 15 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist
  • Carlos Boozer 21 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists
  • Mehmet Okur 14 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 three

And that’s the series. The “We Believe” group proved to be violent thugs with all their fouls after the whistle and cheap shots (two really good ones, Baron Davis on Derek Fisher in the back court; Jason Richardson on Mehmet Okur on a baseline drive). They were despicable rascals, once again trying to play coward ball. And they lost. Jerry Sloan got his revenge, in some way here.

I really loved seeing the Jazz beat the Warriors in this series on the way to their first, non-Stockton and Malone WCF. The Jazz have a ‘chance’ to do it again this series. But I don’t expect a similar result. In this case the Jazz are the underdog lower seed. And the Jazz do not have the home court advantage.

But in keeping with the way things are going, thankfully the entire NBA - casual fans to analysts - love the Warriors. Glad that hasn’t changed.

So what’s going to happen in this series? Hopefully our guys play with some of the confidence that the 2007 Jazz team played with. And hopefully they play strong on the glass.

I know that Snyder is more apt to ‘go small’ which is the normal convention now, and therefore not ‘coward ball’. Joe Johnson is exactly the type of guy who would have hurt Sloan’s Jazz in the past. He could be one of the keys to this series. But in that “more things change / more they stay the same” the backbone of the Jazz defense is their big center. It’s no longer Mark Eaton, but now Rudy Gobert. Gobert isn’t blocking 4 shots a game, but he’s a much more effective and efficient offensive player.

If Rudy can hurt the Dubs it could be a a big problem for not-so-little Golden State.

We’ll see how things tonight, and for the rest of the series. History says Utah is a good playoff team. But history also says that the Warriors are a legit option for my hate, because they’ve beaten the Jazz so many times before.

#TakeNote