Whatever it was that afflicted the Utah Jazz this past week - Bad biorhythms? Bad karma? Bad coffee? - it effectively did them in here Tuesday night in a Coliseum Arena filled with brooms. Just like that; one, two, three, and the Jazz were swept out of the playoffs, forced to surrender to a word all-star guard John Stockton couldn't even bring himself to pronounce before the playoffs begin.
The "L" word."You don't want to ever say the "L" word," said Stockton. "You don't even want to think the "L" word."
Of course, only one NBA team per season gets to exit without Losing. But the amazing thing is that just a short week ago, it wasn't beyond a lot of imaginations that the Jazz could be that team for this season. An NBA championship was not thought to be a ridiculous possibility for a team that, during the regular season, won the Midwest Division title, won 51 regular season games, beat every team in the league except Detroit, owned the defending champion Lakers, had three All-Stars, had the MVP and runner-up MVP in the All-Star Game, led the league by a whopping margin in defense, and even played well on the road.
What was thought to be a ridiculous possibility was losing in the first round of the playoffs. Not with the estimable assets of both a homecourt advantage and the chance to open against the seventh seed in the West.
But then along came the Golden State Warriors, a team with a 43-39 regular season record, and the Jazz barely made it to May in the playoffs, and didn't scare June.
Fifteen thousand reawakened Bay Area basketball fans Tuesday night, many carrying brooms into the arena, didn't help matters in the "L" word clincher, a game won decisively by the Warriors. The fans started chanting "Sweep, sweep, sweep," by the 2:39 mark of the third quarter, when the Jazz called timeout after 10 unanswered Golden State points had given the Warriors a 71-66 lead they would not relinquish. As the Jazz players huddled around Coach Jerry Sloan, trying to make some sense of why bad things were happening to good people, a 12-year-old ballboy who was sweeping the court raised his broom high in the air. Symbolically, that was it. This series was history.
As in the other two games, the Warriors came through when it was time to come through. This time, it was with a flurry begun by the aforementioned 10 points and carried through to the end of the third quarter, at which point the Warriors had manufactured a 21-5 six-minute run and rendered the Jazz without a comeback.
The Warriors shot close to 50 percent for the playoff series - well beyond the 42 percent the Jazz allowed all regular season opponents - and further turned the tables by keeping the Jazz down near the 42 percent level throughout the series.
"The Warriors are a great basketball team. I think people know that now," said Sloan, speaking immediately after the game as the arena's loudspeakers played Elvis Presley singing "Return to Sender," going out especially for Karl "Mailman" Malone and all the Jazz fans.
"I don't see anybody beating them right now," said Sloan. "They're a great team with one of the best coaches in the league."
That was the general consensus in the Jazz locker room, where Warrior-praising was in vogue. "I wish I could say we played poorly. I wish I could say the refs screwed us," said Stockton. "But the truth is, they played a very good game. They just took it to us. I take my hat off to them."
Not to mention the rest of the summer.
As the Warriors move on in the postseason, due now to meet the Phoenix Suns, a more objective analysis of the Bay Area team's greatness, or lack thereof, will unfold - an analysis that will put more perspective on the whys and wherefores of the Jazz's sweepout.
What will probably emerge is evidence that the Warriors are just an average team that had an above-average start to the playoffs; and that the Jazz picked a fine time to go into a slump.
Whether they'll admit it or not, the Jazz were not themselves in the playoffs of '89. They did not reflect the team that won 51 games and dominated the All-Star weekend. They did not reflect the team that played defense like Dirty Harry. The Jazz that the Golden State Warriors beat looked like another team entirely.
There are bound to be complaints and criticisms now; that the Jazz need to be broken up, that they should streamline their lineup, that they should look more like the quick-and-speedy, jump-shooting Golden State Warriors - imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.
But that would make sense only if the Jazz had been beaten when they looked and played like their regular season selves. The Warriors didn't look sensational this past week without help. The Jazz did their part. They picked the worst possible time to go into a deep funk. If and/or when they work up the courage to look at the films - they'll come to that realization.