Former Jazzmen playing big roles in NBA playoffs

Portland Trail Blazers guard Rodney Hood gestures during the second half of Game 6 of the team's NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Portland, Ore. The Trail Blazers won 119-108. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

You can almost build a full roster with former Jazzmen who have played in these NBA playoffs.

Okay, there are only 11 of them, just falling short of the NBA roster minimum. Of those, only five are still playing. But it’s a varied group that covers multiple eras of Jazz basketball.

Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter are perhaps making the biggest mark of any Jazzmen, plying their trade for Portland after in-season moves. Hood has exploded off the bench for the Blazers, winning them multiple games in the Western Conference semifinal matchup tied at three games apiece.

Hood’s galloping infusion of energy in the fourth overtime of a record-setting Game 3 pushed the Blazers over the top, scoring seven points in the game’s final two minutes to get the win. Then, in Game 6, Hood scored 25 points on only 12 shots off the bench, finishing as a plus-21 in a game the Blazers won by 11. His bench points were the difference.

“I’m just grateful that I didn’t give up on myself and I just kept plugging at it,” Hood said of his turnaround, after struggling mightily in last year’s playoffs. As he told the Oregonian, “Things always flip around. This time last year, it was one of my lowest. And now it’s my brightest. That’s God working hard. Keep believing and it always turns around.”

Kanter has had to step into a starting role since usual big man Jusuf Nurkic broke his leg for Denver late in the season, but he performed well as a key part of the Blazers moving past the Oklahoma City Thunder. While Kanter excelled during the early stretches of the Denver series, he’s made only two baskets in each of the final three games of his series, though he has some logical explanations for his decline. He further separated his shoulder in the overtime of his Game 3, and has been fasting from sunup to sundown in observance of Ramadan.

Meanwhile, Paul Millsap has played a major role in the Nuggets’ starting lineup: He’s playing more minutes than he did in the regular season to great effect, scoring 15 points per game in the Nuggets’ 13 games so far. Millsap was especially important in the Nuggets’ Game 4 and 5 wins, with more than 20 points in each game. Trey Lyles — the player the Jazz traded to acquire Donovan Mitchell, along with a draft pick that became Tyler Lydon — has played only eight minutes all playoffs, all in garbage time.

Elsewhere in the West, Jonas Jerebko has played a minor role in the Golden State Warriors’ playoff run. Early in the playoffs, he was mostly a garbage time player, but injuries to DeMarcus Cousins and now Kevin Durant have pushed him into more significant action. Jerebko played five minutes in Game 5 of the Rockets/Warriors series, getting up to 12 minutes in Game 6. In each contest, he scored just two points.

In the Eastern Conference, the two leading scorers of the Jazz’s 2016-17 playoff team have played smaller roles for their teams. Gordon Hayward struggled in the playoffs, scoring 9.6 points per game on 41.4% shooting. After owning a positive plus-minus in every game of the Celtics’ series against Indiana, Boston was outscored every time Hayward stepped on the floor in their four consecutive losses to Milwaukee.

George Hill, though, has found more magic in these playoffs for the Bucks. He was at his best in the Bucks’ Game 3 win in Boston, scoring 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting to get the road win that turned the series. While he’s come off the bench in all nine of Milwaukee’s games, playing behind Eric Bledsoe, he’s also averaged over 24 minutes per game in these playoffs, stepping up after Malcolm Brogdon’s injury.

Wesley Matthews — signed by the Pacers after being waived by the Knicks after the Kristaps Porzingis trade — didn’t impress in four consecutive Indiana losses in the first round. Matthews played 30 minutes a game, but averaged only seven points on just 30% shooting during those minutes. It’s probably no consolation, but DeMarre Carroll shot even worse for the Brooklyn Nets in their five-game loss to the Sixers: just 23.7% from the field for six points per game.

And for the hardcore Jazz fans, there’s Treveon Graham, who never played a regular-season game for the Jazz, but went to camp with the team in 2015. He played a rotation role for the Nets, playing 16 minutes per game in that gentleman’s sweep. Unfortunately, he made only two shots out of the 10 he took in that time. Tyrone Wallace, the Jazz’s No. 60 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, scored two points in 11 minutes of only garbage time for the Clippers.

The performances, good and bad, of the former Jazz players aren’t a referendum on Utah’s first-round playoff loss. Basketball is a team sport, and the butterfly effect too strong: Who knows if Hayward would be struggling in Utah, or if Hood could have found consistency for Quin Snyder.

But at least, for Jazz fans, there are some familiar faces to watch.