We wanted to get a Jazz fan perspective on this series and on hoops, so we turned to blogger Layton Shumway from the up and coming utahjazzblog.net.
Here's our questions and Layton's insights:
Golden State of Mind: Neither the Warriors nor the Jazz were even in the playoffs last year, but they've both made it to the Western Conference semifinals, which is no small feat in the NBA's varsity division. Which team has surprised you the most by making it this far?
Layton Shumway: The Warriors, definitely. I might be biased, but at the start of the season, I saw a lot of potential in the Jazz with Boozer (finally) coming back healthy and a blossoming Deron Williams, who really came on at the end of last season. I truly didn't think much of the Mike Dunleavy-Troy Murphy version of the Warriors, although I've always respected Baron Davis. Once the Warriors pulled off that midseason trade to bring in Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington, though, I knew some good things could happen. Then Baron got healthy, the Hornets took the injury bug off our hands, the Clippers suffered a meltdown of epic proportions, and the T'Wolves choked, and I could see the Warriors making some noise. I won't claim to have foreseen the Mavericks upset, though -- your boys did something special there, no question.
Golden State of Mind: Before this season Carlos Boozer was hit with a nasty injury bug and rumored to be in the Jazz owner's doghouse. There were even rumors that a Boozer- Troy Murphy deal was on the table, but Chris Mullin rejected it because of Boozer's injury history. However, Boozer has rebounded big time and turned out an All-NBA caliber performance in the regular season and in the playoffs this year. What was the general feeling towards Boozer before this season from Jazz fans? How do Jazz fans see Boozer now? Are you surprised with the season he's having?
Layton Shumway: We were never really sure what to think. When Carlos played, he gave it his all, and the few flashes we saw of him in between his injuries left us thirsting for more. That's why the injuries were so frustrating. The thing is, Carlos always said all the right things. In interviews and on TV, he never gave the slightest inkling of wanting to be anywhere else. (And honestly, we gave him the big paycheck, so why would he?) So we heard all the talk and all the rumors, but I think most of us had a wait-and-see attitude, until he was healthy.
Well, he's healthy now, and all I can say is I'm glad we waited. He hasn't exactly captured the hearts of Jazz fans yet (although a few more interviews like the one he gave after Game 2 on TNT will certainly help). He doesn't have the unique personality that Karl Malone had, and deep down I think every Jazz fan subconsciously misses that. But Jazz fans know that we can rely on Boozer to come through. For me, Game 2 of the Rockets series proved how reliable he is, because he bounced back from a lackluster Game 1 and poured in 41 points. I won't doubt him again after that. He can have bad games or get injured again or whatever, but I'm on his side for good now.
I wouldn't say I'm entirely surprised with the season Boozer is having -- it's more like "Oh, right, this is what he could do all along. Now we finally get to see it." But he has exceeded expectations, in my book.
Golden State of Mind: After watching Games 1 and 2 which Warrior has exceeded your expectations going into the series and gave you a good scare? Which Warrior has not lived up to your expectations and let you sleep easier with his play?
Layton Shumway: After watching the Mavs series, I wondered how Al Harrington would do against the Jazz defense. My wonders have become fears, because he's killed us with his perimeter shooting. I expected Baron and J-Rich and even Jackson to get theirs (although I've been impressed with Jackson's slashing ability -- he drives around Jazz defenders like they're standing still sometimes). Matt Barnes has also impressed me with his intensity, but I expected that.
On the other hand, I didn't fear Monta Ellis after the Mavs series, and he's done nothing yet to make me worry.
Golden State of Mind: Utah has a lot of young talent coming off the bench as we've all seen in the first two games of this series with Paul Milsap, Ronnie Brewer, Dee Brown, and C.J. Miles (although we haven't seen him play yet). Who and how do you think they will develop in the next few years? What type of impact do you think they will have on the Jazz?
Layton Shumway: Paul Millsap was the steal of the draft, so it's easy to point to him as somebody who will have success for years to come. He led the NCAA in rebounding for three straight years. True, he was playing at Louisiana Tech against weak conference foes, but anyone who watched game tape on him would know that he is one of those players who simply has a nose for the ball, and seems to get to it no matter the odds. He's deceptively quick and had a decent touch from 15 feet out. On the Jazz he will stay behind Boozer, but his minutes will continue to increase. I can see him carving out a Matt Harpring-type role -- not a starter, but always on the floor at the end of the game.
But each of these players has had a significant impact on the Jazz this year. C.J. Miles was starting during that spectacular 12-1 run to open the season, and no one is really certain why he has fallen out of Coach Sloan's favor (around here we call it the Irrational Jerry Sloan Personnel Decision, or IJSPD -- see the blog for more details). He is very athletic, and has a good outside shot when he's confident, which he usually isn't. His problem is just youth and inexperience. I like his game, but he's the kind of player who may not get enough minutes in Jerry Sloan's program, and might end up having greater success elsewhere, like Kirk Snyder or DeShawn Stevenson. I hope he'll stay, though -- when he's confident, he can do some special things. He just has to get that confidence by himself, because Sloan isn't going to gift-wrap it for him.
Ronnie Brewer is a big fan favorite, and around UtahJazzBlog we've been clamoring for more playing time for him for a while. He will definitely stick in Sloan's system because he's willing to do the little things -- he defends well, moves his feet, has long arms and goes after loose balls. Also, the man has HOPS. He'll never be a great outside shooter with that funky arm, but with Memo Okur and Deron Williams around, he doesn't really need to be (the Jazz take very few 3-pointers anyway). If he plays solid defense, improves his shot a bit, and looks for ways to move without the ball and get open, he'll be a solid player, and I see him ending up as the starter in a year or two when Fisher gets a bit older.
Dee Brown has not really seen enough action to show us what he's made of yet. I have to say, his Game 1 performance surprised me. He's a little too quick and erratic for Sloan's liking, but that's probably a product of his youth and desire to prove himself. At the start of the year, he shot the ball dismally, and it seemed to take him a while to find his footing. Now he is more sure of himself (having Deron Williams around all season for moral support has helped) and has found his role, especially in this series, until his injury. We're all pulling for him, because he can do some things with his speed and creativity that Jazz fans aren't used to.
For the purposes of this series, though, only Millsap will have a really significant impact, although I thought Ronnie Brewer did well in making the most of his Game 2 time, and I still wish he would get more burn.
Golden State of Mind: A lot of uneducated bashers of the NBA and Hip Hop criticize the league and say that they can't relate to the predominantly Black players, the Hip Hop culture, and the often times playground style of play. However, Utah is predominantly white and not exactly a Hip Hop cultural hot spot. Why are the Jazz and the NBA so popular in Utah in spite of these commonly used excuses?
Layton Shumway: First, the Jazz are the only real professional sport in town (although BYU and Utah football garner more attention from a lot of people). So that definitely has an impact -- the Jazz are the one team Utahns can really hold up to the rest of the country as a sign that we're not all that backwards.
Second, it's easy to cheer for a winner, and Stockton and Malone made the Jazz winners for a long time. There's still a ton of residual loyalty to the team because of the fantastic decade we had in the '90s, even though we have an entirely different team now.
Third, Jazz owner Larry Miller prides himself on his values, and uses that image in all of his businesses. It's a successful strategy because that's what Utahns are looking for. It's no different with the Jazz -- they have always sought a certain type of player personality-wise, partly because of Coach Sloan's philosophy and partly because of the population of the state. The Jazz are more likely to sign clean, family-oriented, un-flashy players because it's a clean, family-oriented, un-flashy state. It's also because the players we had for so long -- Malone, Stockton, Hornacek, Eaton -- were also that way. This is somewhat of a broad stereotype to make, but I believe it's generally true.
Golden State of Mind: There has been an urban legend that Salt Lake City is an undesirable place for Black players to play at-- reside or visiting. Can you speak to the history of this legend?
Layton Shumway: I'm not sure I'm entirely qualified to answer that. I think there's a lot of prejudice around the country that still exists about Utah, because of the predominately white population and because of its religious history. There's also a lot of prejudice about the Jazz, because of their style of play and the organization. Jazz fans can recite a litany of instances where NBA players, black and white, snubbed Utah and the Jazz. Derek Harper, when asked why he forced a trade to the Jazz to fall through, sneered, " You go live in Utah." Rony Seikaly simply failed to show up. There are probably several other undocumented cases where players nixed moves to the Jazz because of the stereotypical notion that there's nothing to do in Salt Lake City. Whether that stereotype is justified or not, I don't think I'm objective enough to say, especially since I'm not black or an NBA player. (I'm happy to sit at home and blog about the Jazz on off-nights). But I do know that those who have had real success here, like Karl Malone or Bryon Russell, and now Deron Williams and Derek Fisher, have had no problems with the city, or at least their problems have been outweighed by the success and loyalty of the organization. And I do know that we treat our athletes like kings in this town.
Golden State of Mind: The Jazz are the only professional team in town in the SLC, whereas the Bay Area is saturated with pro squads with the 49ers, Raiders, A's, Giants, Sharks, and Sabercats. Both Jazz and Warrior fan bases are incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about their team, but being the only pro team in the entire state, when the Jazz win it must mean something special to the good people of Utah. What are 3 things that separate Jazz fans from the rest of NBA Nation?
Layton Shumway: First, we see the Jazz as an extension of ourselves. I know that's true of all fans, but Jazz fans feel that their team has never gotten the respect it deserves. Because we feel our state is often misrepresented and misunderstood, we extend that to our team (and it's pretty true on both counts). We feel like the nice guys who always finish last (though we've only had a handful of losing seasons in the team's entire existence). This adds an extra bit of verve to our fandom -- we have massive chips on our shoulders as Jazz fans.
Second, we want to win as a team. We don't want mega-superstars, Stockton and Malone notwithstanding. If the Lakers wanted to trade us Kobe Bryant, we wouldn't take him. (I know some fans will disagree, but I think as a whole this is true.) We want players we can feel good cheering for. We want to see nine players with 10 points each, instead of two with 30 and a few others scattered here and there. We don't necessarily want grind-it-out, slow basketball, but we prize efficiency over flair (it makes that flair all the more enjoyable when it comes). We want to say, at the end of the game, that WE beat you, not that Deron Williams beat you, or that Carlos Boozer beat you. In this way we as fans put ourselves into the equation, because when the team pins all its hopes on one player, our role is diminished. When everyone contributes, our contribution as fans feels more important.
Third, we are loyal. The Jazz organization goes by a simple rule, for the most part: give us your full effort, and we will always support you. That is evident in the longevity of Jerry Sloan's tenure, as well as that of John and Karl. And it's still true now. Even when players aren't playing well, we just want to see them trying, because that's an indication that they want to be here. A decision to sign that contact and join the Utah Jazz is somehow a tacit acceptance of each of us as fans and as Utahns, despite our quirks and the state's oddities (which really aren't that odd). This creates a unity between team and fans that is wholly unique to Utah.
Golden State of Mind: What's your prediction for Games 3 and 4 in Oakland at the Oracle Arena?
Layton Shumway: The Warriors have been so close in Games 1 and 2 that I can't help but think Game 3 belongs to them. The Jazz will not shoot as well in that game, and all those 3s the Warriors have been popping will really start dropping. Several Jazz players will get in foul trouble. Four Warriors will tally over 20 points again, but this time in a win, by at least eight or more.
I think Sloan was willing to run a bit more at home than he will be in Oakland. He'll emphasize defense, position and execution even more than in Games 1 and 2, and I think it will pay off in Game 4. The Jazz will use their more deliberate style to stymie the Oracle crowd (much respect to them, by the way, as long as they stay classy). I think the Jazz just have too many weapons, especially when we've been getting so many second-chance points. I expect the Warriors to shoot a LOT more free throws than they've had in the first two games (although they have shot more than the Jazz overall), but it won't be enough to overcome the rebounding margin in Game 4. Baron Davis will drop 35, but Boozer, D-Will and Memo will all post double-doubles (Millsap will come close) and the Jazz will pull out another very tight game and set up a Game 5 elimination showdown in the SLC.
All of us at GSoM wanted to thank Layton for sharing his thoughts on the Jazz and capturing and expressing the pulse of Utahns with respect to the NBA and their home squad. Definitely make utahjazzblog.net a frequent stop during this series as well as year round to catch that SLC flava.