Kragthorpe: Jazz’s stunning win is flashback to 2010

First Published      Last Updated Apr 24 2017 09:54 pm

What doesn’t kill the Jazz seems to make them stronger

Los Angeles

Five years of anticipation, ruined within 10 seconds?

That sure looked like the story of the Jazz's long-awaited return to the playoffs, but they produced their own theme of Game 1 of an NBA first-round playoff series: How about seven years of a franchise's frustration, erased by one phenomenal effort?

Just when everyone figured the Jazz medically had endured enough this season, the thrill of postseason play was punctured on the first possession of Saturday night's game when center Rudy Gobert fell to the court with a sprained left knee.

Are you kidding? Could a team be any more cursed?

With that backdrop, the Jazz showed remarkable poise and toughness in a 97-95 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center, the franchise's first win in a playoff game since April 2010.

Playoff veteran Joe Johnson's floating shot bounced off the rim and into the basket at the buzzer, giving the Jazz an ending they absolutely deserved.

Gobert's absence and the emotional drain caused by his stunning injury should have been too much to overcome. But the Jazz persevered, as the 2010 team did in Game 2 in Denver in the absence of center Mehmet Okur. The difference is that group had two days to adjust. These guys had to deal with the immediate shock of Gobert's injury, and they did so admirably.

And now it gets interesting.

"I think we should feel that we can win without Rudy," said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. "At the same time, it's a long series and we have to be resilient and continue to believe in that."

The playoff-tested Johnson, George Hill and Boris Diaw delivered more than anyone could have asked in the first half. The Jazz absorbed the loss of Gobert and earned a 52-all tie, with those three combining for 29 points.

And when Hill banked in a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock and make it 82-74 in the fourth quarter, everything was going the Jazz's way. Finishing the job took some clutch plays and defensive stops, and Johnson came through in the end; his NBA-high eighth game-winning, buzzer-beating shot in the past 10 seasons (counting playoffs) could not have been better timed in Jazz history.

His floater came after the Clippers' Chris Paul tied the game with a drive with 13.1 seconds left. That play followed the Jazz's Derrick Favors missing one free throw and making the other.

Beyond the pain Gobert himself experienced, the timing and significance of his injury were ridiculous. Try being Snyder, in his first NBA playoff game as a head coach, being asked to adjust without his team's anchor, one of the league's best defensive players.

Imagine the irony of Gobert's playing 81 regular-season games as one of the team's most reliable forces, and then having him go down before the Jazz even attempted a shot. The Clippers' Luc Mbah a Moute innocently bumped into Gobert, who was setting a screen. When play officially stopped after 17 seconds, Gobert needed assistance in walking to the locker room.

In the buildup to Game 1, Snyder fielded two days of questions about how he and his team would respond to playoff pressure. Nobody, of course, could have seen this degree of adversity coming. Not even the "Rubber Boy" contortionist who performed at halftime was tasked with more dramatic alterations than Snyder, who said when adversity hits, "we just have to react appropriately."

The Jazz's response was impressive, once they absorbed the initial shock. The natural flashback to Game 1 of a 2010 first-series vs. Denver, when Jazz center Mehmet Okur injured his Achilles' tendon and was lost for the season, is encouraging.

After that 126-113 defeat, the Jazz somehow won Game 2 in Denver and went on to claim the series with a clinching Game 6 victory that remained the franchise's most recent win in any playoff game — until Saturday. That team persevered with Kyrylo Fesenko as the starting center. The Jazz are better staffed at the position now, with Favors and Jeff Withey available.

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