Kragthorpe: Jazz figured Warriors out in ‘07; can they do it again?

First Published      Last Updated May 03 2017 08:58 pm

Oakland, Calif.

Ten years ago, the Jazz's solutions in a playoff series with Golden State came during the day between two road games.

As the team practiced in Berkeley High's gym, the annual Pagan Festival & Parade was beginning on the street outside the school. The event included costumed witches, goat-driven carriages and booths promoting the Faerie Masque Ball and a Tarot to Go reading.

The vibe must have helped. The Jazz recovered from a 20-point loss with a convincing victory the next night and went on to win the Western Conference semifinals in five games. It remains the franchise's most memorable playoff series of this century, with events such as guard Derek Fisher's return after his infant daughter's cancer surgery.

The current Jazz, having moved their Bay Area playoff headquarters to San Francisco's Financial District, are searching for their own answers in advance of Thursday's Game 2. As forward Gordon Hayward said after a 106-94 defeat in Game 1, they "have to figure something out."

In 2007, that merely meant slowing down the Warriors' prolific scoring attack. The latest challenge requires solving both offensive and defensive riddles against the NBA's best team. The Jazz struggled to sustain anything Tuesday, when coach Quin Snyder said of Golden State's defense, "If there are windows when you're open, they cover those."

So even if the Warriors themselves evoked 2007 during Game 1, honoring the players who upset No. 1 seed Dallas before losing to the Jazz, this series more closely resembles what happened to the Jazz in subsequent years. They kept running into the Los Angeles Lakers, twice in the West semifinals and once in the first round, ending their seasons.

Yet as downtown Berkeley prepares to stage another festival this weekend, maybe there's an application from '07 that will kick for the Jazz in Thursday's Game 2. I know this: The Jazz were more overwhelmed by the Warriors and the Oracle Arena atmosphere in Game 3 of '07 than they were Tuesday. Golden State's 125-105 victory, coming after two close losses in Salt Lake City, seemingly signaled a shift in the series, with Baron Davis' dunk over Andrei Kirilenko as the most celebrated play.

Jarron Collins' memories of that series are strong, even if some of the details escape him. Going into Game 4, "We made a number of adjustments — don't ask me what they were," said Collins, then a Jazz reserve center and now a Warriors assistant coach. "But I just remember the biggest thing for us was our physicality. They were a smaller, quicker team."

Collins admired Kirilenko's willingness to help defensively as Davis drove, even if it made A.K. a victim of the dunk (and he even was charged with a foul, as Davis planted his forearm into Kirilenko's nose).

"What's so funny about that is Andrei, even to this day, he doesn't care about any of those things," Collins said. "He has the ultimate shot blocker's mentality … 'Sometimes, I'm going to get it; sometimes, I'm not.' And he doesn't care about the results, if he gets dunked on."

Asked what he recalls about that series, former Jazz forward Matt Harpring said, "Their crowd … they were crazy. It just seemed like it moved to a whole new level."

Phil Johnson, the Jazz's longtime assistant coach, said, "I just remember the emotion of everything. They were the eighth seed, and they weren't expected to do well."

But coach Don Nelson's team shocked Dallas in six games, and then made the Jazz work after Utah had advanced with a Game 7 win at Houston. The Jazz survived Game 1, a 116-112 home victory, but were struggling in Game 2. Having arrived from New York, Fisher was escorted from the airport to the arena during the third quarter and changed into his uniform. Kirilenko was playing point guard because Deron Williams was in foul trouble and Dee Brown had been taken to a hospital after injuring his neck in a first-half collision. Fisher barely paused along the bench as coach Jerry Sloan sent him into the game.

"That's one of the loudest times I've ever heard that arena, when he walked out of the tunnel," Collins said.

Facing his former Warriors teammates, Fisher finished the third quarter, then also played at the end of regulation as the Jazz forced overtime. His only shot of the game, a 3-pointer from the left corner in overtime, helped the Jazz secure the 127-117 win. Sports Illustrated labeled Fisher's homecoming the NBA's signature moment of 2007.

The Jazz then absorbed that Game 3 defeat in Oakland before Carlos Boozer's 32 points helped them win Game 4, and they closed out the Warriors in Game 5 at home.

Fisher would depart that summer, citing his daughter's medical issues for wanting to move his family to Los Angeles. He rejoined the Lakers and won a playoff series against the Jazz each of the next three seasons, while the team claimed two NBA titles.

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