Who Says The Playoffs Start Late? Not For The Utah Jazz

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You ever had your back against the wall? That was where the Utah Jazz were last night against a Dallas Mavericks team coming in that had flummoxed them all season long. The Mavs came to drive home the dagger on a Jazz team that had fought hard to remain relevant, triumphing over the Rockets in Houston three games before, only to drop a second straight meeting with the lowly New Orleans Hornets followed the very next night by a thrust to the heart by a playoff-seasoned Memphis Grizzlies squad that weren’t about to let an outsider-looking-in take a season sweep from them on their home floor.

That was it. It was over, for all intents and purposes. All for naught. The extreme emotional roller coaster was finally grinding to a halt. Jazz fans resigned themselves to the inevitable, by and large.

But then there was an ever so faint glimmer on the horizon. If the Jazz could win out while either the Denver Nuggets or Houston Rockets went 2-3 to finish Utah would still be kicking, provided they had any fight left in ‘em. But that meant beating a Dallas team that they hadn’t gotten the best of in more than two years, two months, and two weeks.

I didn’t even intend to go to this game. Can you imagine?

Can you imagine missing out on a Utah franchise record rebounds by Huge Al Jefferson, a gutty, gritty career high six assists by cast-off DeMarre Carroll, or Devin Harris tying a career best five 3-makes in a bid to open up the paint for the Jazz’s Fearsome Foursome with a new career mark 12 3-point attempts, or even 10-day signee Blake Ahearn’s first points in a Jazz uni?

It was almost an accident, one facilitated by an alternate plan all for the sake of saying hello to Devin Harris’s brother Bruce who was in town for the tilt to pull for the home team to pull off the impossible. When our plan to hook up for a pregame BS session blew all to hell he told me to meet him at EnergySolution Arena instead. How was I to know it would be the most intense Jazz game I’d ever attended?

I’ve been to many Jazz games — many this season, several of which have been candidates for the Game of the Year for the Jazz — but all I could think of as the Mavericks closed in on the undermanned Jazz late was “This is INTENSE!”

I was at that historic MJ’s Bulls at the Delta Center Jazz triple overtime game back in ’92, and that has always been the crowning jewel of intensity for attended Jazz games for me. Until now.

As intense and great as that game was — Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, John Stockton and all — there just wasn’t anything on the line aside from pride. There was oh-so much more than simple, vain pride on the line last night. The Jazz were fighting for their very playoff lives and they knew it.

The first domino fell the evening before when the Denver Nuggets beat the Houston Rockets — two of the teams immediately in front of Utah in the West playoff race. Now, while Utah prepared to tip off in a CPR-ready battle, the Nuggets were on the second night of a back-to-back with Houston, and Houston was up four. The worst case scenario here was that the Rockets would split the home-and-home series leaving Utah for dead on the spring desert floor.

The next domino fell when Devin Harris took the first Jazz offensive possession slicing to the rim, showing the Mavs that the Jazz meant business. As the game wound on and they ran the lead up to as large as 11, I was as glued to the in-arena scoreboard across from me as I was to the focused players on the Larry H. Miller court before me. I would get the news I so craved in a beer line at halftime, offering ESA an emphatic fist pump that felt to me as if it went from rafter to floor. The third domino had fallen, along with the Rockets, whom the Jazz hold the tie-breaker with.

But they had to finish their business first, or it was all so much trash in the can that Jerry Sloan used to lean on to do his media duties in the bowels of the arena.

Dirk was feeling… talkative, and intense, as he always is. He hates to lose. Especially to the pesky Jazz who have tortured him years yore (think Andrei Kirilenko and Right Guard). Ty Corbin threw everything he had at Nowitzki while Jason Terry spun in unreal shot after shot, leaving the twine snapping relentlessly as Utah’s confidence and lead dwindled simultaneously. This is what champions do. This is what Mavericks do to Jazz.

Only the Mavericks don’t have one of these.

Riding a season-high six-game win streak three weeks ago the Jazz rolled into Atlanta and lost an epic battle with the Hawks in four overtimes. Head coach Ty Corbin road his starting five into the ground that night, and I, manning the multiple Dime Twitter accounts and being responsible for a short recap afterward that would be posted on the Daily Dime Live page on ESPN, criticized Corbin for failing to make a move in any of the OTs.

Once again he rode the starters all the way. All the way to victory, playing the odds and the best five cards dealt him. And they responded by taking a big step forward, growing as a team that has each other’s backs, a team not willing to just lay down and die at anyone’s feet.

This was intensity. Playoff intensity. For the playoffs have begun in earnest for the Utah Jazz. And I’m damn proud to say I was there for it.

Seth Carstens