Welcome to the Greatest Moment series at Last Word On Pro Basketball, where we’ll present to you each NBA team’s greatest moment of the 21st century. From draft lottery luck, to a franchise-changing trade, to the sweet taste of a championship, every NBA team has had its own special moment to look back on.
Greatest Utah Jazz Moment of the 21st Century: Derek Fisher’s Inspiring Return
Utah’s Re-emergence as a Contender in 2006-07
Throughout the 1990s, the Utah Jazz were a formidable NBA opponent, led by the All-Star pairing of NBA legends John Stockton and Karl Malone. The franchise made 20 consecutive playoff appearances from 1983 to 2003, including three trips to the Western Conference Finals and two NBA Finals appearances. After the 2002-03 season, Stockton retired, and Malone left to play his final year in the league with a stacked Los Angeles Lakers squad in search of an NBA championship.
In the three years that followed, the Jazz failed to even make it to the post-season. However, Utah’s luck turned around in the 2006-07 season, when the franchise not only made it to the playoffs, but made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Deron Williams, Matt Harpring, and Derek Fisher all averaged double figure scoring numbers that season, making them essential pieces to the successful squad.
2007 Western Conference Semifinals
The 2007 Western Conference Semifinals matched the resurgent Jazz with the Golden State Warriors. Both teams were coming off hard fought first-round series victories. The eighth-seeded Warriors, nicknamed the “We Believe” Warriors, upset the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in six games, led by Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, and Matt Barnes. Meanwhile, Utah won a seven-game series against Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, and the Houston Rockets.
The Jazz and Warriors had met twice previously in the playoffs, with Golden State emerging the winner on both occasions. The third meeting would have a different result. Coach Jerry Sloan and the defensive-minded Jazz would go on to beat the Warriors in five games, advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1998.
The most memorable moment of the 2007 Golden State-Utah playoff series, and the most memorable Jazz moment of the 21st century, came during Game 2 in Salt Lake City: Derek Fisher’s inspiring return.
After a 116-112 Game 1 loss in Utah, the Warriors entered Game 2 hoping to tie the series before returning home to Oracle Arena for Games 3 and 4. It simply was not to be. The Jazz prevailed in a goosebumps-producing overtime win, due in part to the inspired play of Fisher, a veteran guard.
Fisher had missed Game 1 of the series, traveling to New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City so his 10-month-old daughter could have emergency surgery and chemotherapy to treat retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer. The surgery and treatment were successful, allowing Fisher to fly back to Salt Lake City and arrive in time to play in the second half of Game 2.
Fisher had neither warmed up nor stretched, but nonetheless ran straight from the tunnel onto the court late in the third period to a standing ovation.
The emotional boost for Utah was undeniable.
The Jazz forced overtime, overcoming a five-point deficit with 52 seconds left in regulation. Neither team dominated the extra period; the score remained close throughout. With 1:09 left on the clock and Utah hanging on to a slim three-point advantage, Williams sent the ball to Fisher, who sunk a game-clinching three from the corner. The well-timed bucket delighted the crowd and allowed Utah to go on to a 127-117 victory and take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. Fisher ended the game with five points, all scored in overtime, and his emotionally charged performance in Game 2 cemented his position as one of Utah’s most beloved players.
The Game 2 victory was crucial in Utah’s eventual series win, which advanced the Jazz to the Western Conference Finals. The team’s 2007 Conference Finals run is, to date, the furthest that the franchise has gone in the playoffs since the turn of the century. Fisher was undoubtedly a big part of it.
Embed from Getty Images