In 1997 John Stockton made the shot heard ’round the Lake. Fans flooded the airport to celebrate following his game winning three pointer over the Houston Rockets. These Jazz were one of the greatest teams to never win a championship but that’s largely due to the obstacle they came up against in the all time great Michael Jordan. But how would these Jazz fare against last year’s curse breaking Cleveland Cavaliers? An inside analysis on every matchup gives us a closer look.
Point Guard matchup: John Stockton vs Kyrie Irving John Stockton is one of the greatest point guards of all time and Kyrie has one of the best handles the NBA has seen in a while. Stockton would win this matchup if his ankles could first survive Kyrie’s killer crossover dribbles. Stockton is the all time leader in assists and steals so he would dominate those statistics over Uncle Drew on both sides of the ball. Kyrie would drop more points but Stockton’s hustle and selflessness would make his team better overall.
Shooting Guard matchup: Jeff Hornacek vs JR Smith Horny wins this matchup mostly due to his more consistent shooting. JR Smith is streakier than anyone in the NBA. If he makes one three pointer he will make his next ten. If he misses a three pointer there will be an APB out for him. Cavs fans many times echo the 80s sitcom Dallas: Who Shot JR? Jeff Hornacek was one of the best free throw shooters of all time, averaging over 90 percent some seasons and 87.7% throughout his career. He averaged just over 40% from three so he would definitely give the Jazz an advantage over the Cavs in this position matchup
Small Forward matchup: Lebron James vs Bryon Russell Lebron is the best basketball player in the world so he would most likely have to face defensive specialist Bryon Russell for a game winning shot just like Jordan did. Lebron likely wouldn’t make the same push off move that Jordan did in 1998. He would either flop and sink one of two free throws to send the Cavs to an overtime win or do what Jordan did in 1997 and kick it out to the Steve Kerr of the Cavs (Kyle Korver). Lebron would be an obvious advantage over the Jazz but his lack of the assassin’s mentality would make the game winning shot over the Jazz look a lot different. The Jazz would most likely split championships with the Cavs just like Lebron has split the last two Finals with the Warriors.
Power Forward Matchup: Karl Malone vs Tristan Thompson Karl Malone is a two time MVP. Double TT can board better than Malone but that’s it. The Mailman would deliver using the pick and roll and his midrange jumper. There would be little that Thompson could do on either side of the ball but he would put up a valiant effort.
Center Matchup: Greg Ostertag vs Kevin Love Greg Ostertag would beat Kevin Love in a game of bloody knuckles but that’s about it. Love has range, can board and can run up and down the court without needing to take a break.
Bench: Korver and D-Will vs Eisley and Foster The Cavs have better marksmen coming off the bench who happened to be former All-Stars. Nobody has heard of the Jazz 1997 bench so the advantage easily goes to the Cavs here.
Coaching: Jerry Sloan vs Tyron Lue: Sloan wins this battle. Once again LeBron has to deal with a rookie coach. Lue was a good rookie coach as he dealt with Lebron’s personality better than the timid David Blatt who was fired quickly. However, Jerry Sloan was more successful in his era than many other coaches. Sloan wins here.
Final Prediction: The 1997 Jazz would be better than the 2016 Cavaliers because Korver isn’t Kerr. Lebron would kick it to Korver for a game winner and Korver would miss because his accuracy is better when not in the clutch. However, the Cavs would rebound to beat them in 1998. The world will never know but the Jazz would have beaten a lot of teams in the Finals if a guy named Michael Jordan wasn’t on the team.