It’s still on.
Less than two nights after that painful, heartbreaking, nerve-damaging, muscle cramping, sickening, vomit inducing two-point loss to Phoenix, Utah emerged triumphant against Golden State tonight, winning 104-98.
This is what the win means as of now (9:43 PM Utah time):
Because Phoenix lost, the Jazz now own the ninth spot in the west by half a game.
Because Phoenix lost to Denver (shooting only 8 out of 20 3-pointers, go figure), the Jazz remain a game and a half behind the seventh place Nuggets.
Because Dallas lost to Portland, the Jazz remain two games away from taking the sixth seed in the west (and only three behind fifth place Memphis)
The Lakers currently hold a 59-50 lead over Houston at half-time – if Kobe and his punks can help us for a change and beat the Rockets, then the Jazz would only be a half game out of playoff contention.
So, tonight’s win, while crucial, means nothing if Houston and Denver continue to win.
As of this point, I’m ready to roll into bed, close my eyes and hibernate for a good three weeks in the hopes of avoiding the constant up-and-down drama/struggle that marks this end of year stretch. (In truth, the Jazz would likely face either the Thunder or current top-ranked San Antonio in the first round – neither series presents warm-hearted thoughts – so perhaps this so-called race is all for naught.) Don’t get me wrong, the ride carries with it some awesome, if not spectacular, memories – the six game win streak, the Portland comeback among them – but those painful losses to the Hawks and the Suns will forever haunt my dreams.
For whatever reason, and maybe I’m alone in this, the 2011-2012 season has taken its toll more than any other in recent memory. Perhaps because those other years with D-Will, Boozer, Korver, and the gang – while admittedly fun – always pointed towards a horrific demise: a loss to LA in either six, five or four quick games.
For so many years after Malone and Stockton bailed, Utah remained a quality team, but never a GREAT team (mainly due to lack of team chemistry, methinks). And so, despite the wins presented to us by Jerry Sloan and co., no Jazz fan was ever under the delusion that a championship loomed closely on the horizon. We applauded the effort, enjoyed the run and then went home.
This year’s Jazz squad provides something more profound and meaningful to cheer for. Without a superstar among them, Coach Corbin’s team remains a true underdog in every sense of the word – a team that plays so friggin’ hard every night, and frequently falls due to a lack of high budget star power. It would be different if they effortlessly wandered the floor, cranking out the occasional win (like Sac-Town); but no, this team wills themselves to compete in every game! Each night, as a result, we fans must witness either a miracle or a tragedy – a showstopping effort by Milsap cut short by an all-too quick shot clock; a tremendous comeback offset by Kevin Garnett’s punk ways; an Al Jefferson performance like no other tarnished by Chris Paul’s amazing acrobatics. There’s no in-between.
For us writers, this proves difficult because we must figure out the ins and outs of what went wrong and why it went wrong. In most cases, I point to Big Al hogging the ball, and while sometimes the numbers may justify that theory, in the end it’s difficult to find a folly in this Utah team other than lack of experience (and, perhaps, talent). The Jazz squeeze by on effort alone – Milsap’s Herculean efforts chief among them.
Take tonight, for instance. The Jazz trailed 80-78 against Golden State heading into the fourth quarter. Jefferson sat gloomily on the bench after enduring an ab-strain (to which Harpring dramatically predicted an elongated absence for our center); Milsap was struggling from the field; CJ was puking in the locker room. A loss would’ve been justified, even accepted – they simply don’t have it this year. They tried hard, gave it a good run, but in the end nothing they dished out was enough.
Except Utah didn’t lose. Instead, Devin Harris (28 points, five assists) took a heaping dose of adrenaline, mixed with two bags of caffeine, and a quart of sugar, and steam rolled the Warriors with a 3-point barrage that helped put the Jazz up by two (he even made a sensational layup that will be overlooked by Sports Center for another meaningless LeBron James block). Then Big Al heroically entered the game and capped off a 30-point, two assists, five blocked shots, 11-rebound performance by making a 12-foot jumper with 2:31 to go, giving the Jazz a 98-93 edge. Gordy (14 points) likewise stepped up and drained a long jumper to give Utah a nine point edge with 1:25 remaining, and then stole the ball from Klay Thompson to put a cap on the game.
Just like that: Utah pulled off the (semi) miracle and kept its playoff hopes alive, at least for now.
And that’s why we keep watching this year. That’s why, despite the heartbreak and agony, we come back to our televisions, fill the arena and cheer on our boys: because they play so damned hard each and every night. Because they come back from ab-strains, and sickness (good job CJ), and woeful deficits to at least give it a hefty go, no matter the outcome. I don’t recall Boozer ever trying that hard (if he or AK experienced anything remotely akin to pain, they’d be seated court side for the better part of six months after being wheeled out on a stretcher); or D-Will ever showing that much grind-it-out-hustle.
Nah, this team is different. They’re fun to watch, because they all want to win so badly. And we want them to win even more.
Maybe that’s why the Jazz organization refused to trade anybody in February – how can you get rid of heart?