The end of the 2016-17 season may be near for the Utah Jazz, but that doesn’t mean that they should go down quietly or without a fight.
Heading into their current series against the Golden State Warriors, many pinned the Utah Jazz as a team that could potentially push the defending Western Conference Champions. Unfortunately, that’s been far from the case as Utah finds itself in a 0-3 hole after being handily defeated in each game.
There’s been some encouraging moments so far, most notably in Game 3 where the Jazz took a nine-point lead at one point during the game, as well as Utah’s relatively solid defense throughout the series. Unfortunately, the main issue has been their lack of offensive firepower as on several occasions the Jazz have gone stagnant on that end of the floor.
Of course George Hill’s absence (which has caused no small amount of angst among fans and rightfully so) hasn’t helped the issue whatsoever, but that’s another matter entirely.
Therefore, an underwhelming Jazz offense has resulted in the team finding itself on the brink of elimination with virtually no chance to come back and win the series.
However, as The J Notes contributor Caleb Manser wrote last night, this is a Jazz team that has been resilient all year long regardless of the obstacles they’ve faced and it would be unwise to expect them to simply buckle and throw in the towel tonight in Game 4.
In fact, while surely the team knows as well as any of us that their Game 3 loss all but erased their hopes of pulling off the major series upset, I’d argue that there’s still plenty to prove and play for tonight. The simple aspect of pride comes to mind right off the bat wherein the Jazz should want to avoid the sweep in general especially in front of their home fans who have been so supportive all season long.
Beyond that, though, the Jazz obviously have championship aspirations as all NBA teams should. If these playoffs have taught us anything it’s that while the Cleveland Cavaliers are the measuring stick for championship contention in the East, the Warriors are very much the measuring stick in the West. At least for the foreseeable future, if any team wants to reach the NBA Finals out of the West, they’ll have to get past the Warriors to do it.
Therefore, although by winning a playoff series in the first place, the Jazz have already shown overwhelmingly that they’re trending in the right direction and making a move towards that coveted contender status, a playoff win over Golden State would go a long way to further solidify that they’ve taken that next step in their growth process.
This team expected to be able to compete with the top-seeded Warriors and although that hasn’t quite been the case so far, the Jazz still have time to reverse that trend, at least to some extent.
And that’s one of the main reasons why the Jazz need to go down swinging. While in the grand scheme of things losing in four, five or six games may not make much of a difference, there’s no telling what it might do for the team’s confidence if they are able to take Game 4 and at least compete in the ensuing contest.
There’s an unquestionable psychological difference between a sweep that makes you think, “Wow, we just got our butts kicked” and winning even a single game where the sentiment instead is, “OK, we hung in there and showed some fight. Let’s learn from what we did well, work on what we can improve and go get ’em next year!”
With this offseason being such a big one for the Jazz, particularly in terms of re-signing Gordon Hayward, there’s no telling how much a win or two over Golden State could help him lean towards staying with Utah to build on what they’ve started, whereas ending the season in a discouraging sweep and having that as the last memory of 2016-17 might make perceived greener pastures look all the more appealing.
Last of all, the Utah Jazz ought to feel motivated to continue to fight because in reality they’ve had a shot in each of these three games. Although the casual fan might discount what the Jazz have done and how good of a team they truly are, Jazz fans are hungry to see this team get at least one more playoff win and prove that, while they may be unable to win a series against the Warriors, they aren’t insurmountably far from being able to go toe-to-toe with them.
Take away a couple of slow starts, get rid of some poor turnovers and add in some actual meaningful contributions from guys not named Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert, and these could have been completely different ball games.
Guys like Joe Johnson, Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors and George Hill (largely due to injury) have been virtually invisible this series. So in a lot of ways it’s surprising that the Jazz have even been as close as they have, given that they’ve played far from their best basketball. Of course, give a lot of the credit for that fact to the Warriors, who simply force teams into playing well below their ceiling.
Still, the Jazz have plenty to prove and are much more capable than what they’ve shown so far. Regardless of what happens tonight or in potentially additional games, this season has been an overwhelming success for the Jazz, but it would still be a much better representation of what this team has become if they’re able to at least log one victory against the Warriors.
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Call it nothing more than a moral victory if you’d like, but there truly are several reasons why the Jazz ought to come out ready to put up a fight tonight and not let the Warriors get off the hook easily. Sure, it likely will just be prolonging the inevitable, but this team has battled all year long and there’s no reason for them to quit now, even with elimination staring them in the face.
Game 4 tips off tonight at 7:00 PM MT in Salt Lake City.