This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Apparently, the Jazz just needed something to go against them Sunday.
They turned Game 7 of a first-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Clippers into a 48-minute snapshot of their season, responding to Rudy Gobert's foul trouble with an inspired effort from Derrick Favors and a bunch of other players in a 104-91 victory at the Staples Center.
In a building where Gobert offered a harsh critique of his teammates' willingness to compete after a loss to the Clippers in late March, the French center could only smile a bit sheepishly Sunday when reminded of that episode. They basically won this game without him, and he was impressed.
"It shows that they're competitors," Gobert said.
Maybe his words helped. The Jazz produced their first playoff series victory in seven years by competing from start to finish. In the context of the franchise's latest rebuilding project, the breakthrough is comparable to a Game 7 win in Houston in 2007.
The world will frame this Game 7 outcome as something only the Clippers could do, crumbling with a home-court opportunity to advance. That's unfair to the Jazz, and so is the suggestion that the Clippers would have won this series with a healthy Blake Griffin.
"Listen, they beat us," said Clippers coach Doc Rivers.
The Jazz did it with toughness and poise throughout the game, but especially so in the long stretches when Favors replaced Gobert. Favors finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes before fouling out himself, basically replicating his performance in Game 1 when Gobert injured his knee. That fill-in effort typified the Jazz's response to tough times, and so did Sunday's showing even if nobody got hurt or sick.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder labeled the series a "growth opportunity" that his team maximized. Beating the Clippers required three road wins, topped by an impressive response to a Game 6 home-court loss that logically should have launched the full-speed renovation of Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The jackhammers will be silenced, temporarily. The Jazz will host Golden State in two games (or more) of a Western Conference semifinal series that starts Tuesday in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors will present a risk/reward opportunity that will further validate the Jazz's progress, or expose how far they have to go in the Western Conference. It will be fun, regardless.
Altering the arena construction schedule took more of what the Jazz have done all year. Seven players scored in double figures. More remarkably, 12 players appeared in the first half, as Snyder mixed and matched his lineups in Gobert's absence. "We had a lot of guys that were ready," Snyder said.
And in the second half, the Jazz shut down Clippers guard Chris Paul, who missed his last nine shots of the game after tormenting them for two weeks. In contrast, the Jazz's Gordon Hayward scored 19 of his 26 points in the second half.
With the RuPaul DragCon event being held in the adjacent convention center, this was not Chris Paul's day. April 30 was International Jazz Day, and imports such as Boris Diaw and Joe Ingles did their part in the victory even if Gobert's impact was minimal.
Jazz guard George Hill deserves credit for much of Paul's struggles, as he outplayed the All-Star. Hill outscored Paul 17-13 and delivered the dagger, just when the Jazz were in some danger. Their 21-point lead was down to eight in the last three minutes. That's when Hill chased down an offensive rebound, circled back, drove into the lane and hit a 13-footer for a 100-90 lead.
So ended the longest, craziest playoff series in Jazz history. The 16-day adventure included moments when each team seemed to be in command, while having to overcome injuries, illness and other personnel issues.
The Clippers failed to exploit the absence of Gobert in Game 1 and Hayward in the second half of Game 4, while the Jazz couldn't take advantage of Griffin's being gone in Games 3 and 6. Factoring in Gobert's unavailability due to fouls Sunday, the Jazz played almost the same number of minutes in this series without Gobert or Hayward as the Clippers did without Griffin.
The biggest difference between the Jazz's Game 7 wins in 2007 and 2017 is that Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams were coming back, while questions surround the futures of Hayward, Hill and others. That's why the Jazz's advancement Sunday carries greater significance. Game 7 was another moment that should help persuade Hayward to stay for more than just another playoff round.
"We're going to use the experiences we got from this series, moving forward," he said.