Utah may have driven the final stake in the hearts of the Los Angeles Clippers. That's just one of the ways this team endeared itself to millions in round one.
The Utah Jazz are in round two of the Western Conference playoffs. They did it in the way everyone expected: By losing Rudy Gobert for a couple of games, winning games when Gordon Hayward shot under 40% or left with food poisoning, and riding the shoulders of 35-year-old Joe Johnson.
Who didn't see that coming?
The Jazz were an exciting bunch in that Clippers series. Sure, some of it was that the Clippers have been the complainers-in-chief in the NBA for several years and everyone not-so-secretly likes to see them lose, but there was also a feeling that public opinion preferred Utah.
Operating under the assumption that playoff basketball is reserved largely for playoff basketball fans, Utah was fun to watch. Look at this game one winner.
Show me where in this clip Joe Johnson does anything that screams "NBA All-Star." He lumbers across half-court, stutter-steps a couple of times, then plods into the lane. Once he's in the lane he just sort of leans into Chris Paul, jumps about 13 inches off the ground, and tosses the ball toward the rim. Of course it went in. Joe Johnson turned into the old dude at the rec center who used to be incredibly good and now just outsmarts everyone while conserving his energy for the cookout after the game.
The craziest part is that he wasn't even close to the most "old man game" player on the team. That honor, of course, goes to Joe Ingles. Take two minutes out of your day and watch these Joe Ingles highlights from game four.
The majority of these plays are things that you probably think "...I could do that." He barely leaves the floor, he barely uses fast-twitch muscles, and he barely even thinks about scoring the basketball. Of course, down the stretch he hit two brutal threes to put the game away.
Even more irritating, he led the series in steals. Defensive juggernaut Joe Ingles had more steals in a seven game series than six-time NBA steals leader Chris Paul. Ingles looks like the kind of guy you can take off the dribble but you just can't. There's a 6:00 YouTube video of defensive Joe Ingles highlights from this series. If you had predicted that before this series, you would have been called a crazy person, and rightly so.
These are pieces of the "Jazz as exciting" storyline, as is the continued brilliance of Gordon Hayward. It almost felt like Hayward didn't have a great series. He struggled in the first two games and then missed most of game four with food poisoning, yet somehow the Jazz had the series tied at 2-2. All he did in the final three games was average 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists while shooting 45% on threes.
You might be noticing a trend here, but Hayward also plays at an aggravating pace - he's so calculated that it looks like he's half-heartedly wandering through the defense when suddenly he's tossed up a 12-foot floater with no hands in his face. It's brilliant.
Of course, Gordon Hayward is arguably not the best player on his team (though he was this series). Rudy Gobert's injury 17 seconds into game one could've been a death-blow to the Jazz, but he made it back and gave a solid performance. In games 4-6 he managed seven steals and six blocks, reminding everyone that he's going to finish top-3 in DPoY voting.
Derrick Favors, though. Favors was huge in game seven. Gobert had laughable foul trouble all night and all Derrick Favors did was come in and go for 17 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes against DeAndre Jordan. This was the kind of performance that defines a playoff run. The only problem with Utah's playoff run is that the next step is facing Golde State. Still, Utah's fans will turn out in full force, just like Golden State's will.
For now, let's focus on what was a great series. For fans who love breakaway dunks and showy offense, this wasn't ideal. For fans who love teams that don't look like they should be dominant, it was outstanding.
It was also a pretty good series for Clippers haters.