15 years ago today, Antoine Carr made a surprise start in the 2nd-half of Game 5 of the NBA Finals and proved to be the key difference as the Utah Jazz shocked the Chicago Bulls with an 83-81 victory to send the series back to Salt Lake City for Game 6.
Antoine Carr scored 12 points on a perfect 5-5 from the floor in the 2nd-half and hit two clutch free throws with 10.4 seconds remaining to preserve the win. While Karl Malone (39 points – 25 in the 2nd-half) rightfully received most of the glory – part of the Mailman’s success came from the Big Dawg’s ability to free up the interior with his perimeter shooting and weak-side finishing.
Similar to the Super Bowl – the national media instantly gravitates to unsung heroes in the NBA Finals (See Gary Neal last night) and the 37-year old Carr was thrust into the spotlight following his outstanding performance.
Carr came to the Jazz prior to the 1994-95 season after playing 3 seasons in San Antonio. The Spurs faced the Jazz in the 1993-94 NBA Playoffs when – knowing Antoine was headed to free agency – Carr’s mother begged Malone during a game to use his influence to help her son land a spot on the Jazz. Malone not only heard her – he and Carr spoke after the series (a 3-1 Jazz victory) and that offseason Carr signed a 3-year contract with Utah. With the Jazz, Carr suffered a lacerated eyeball that prevented his retina from adjusting to light normally and resulted in headaches. As a result, Carr began wearing his trademark sunglasses that eventually became a hallmark of the “Big Dawg” personna, which included a tremendous amount of “woofing” to and from the crowd.
Although he was a potent scorer and leaper (one of his early nicknames was “Slam Antonio”) in his prime – Carr arrived in Utah as a 33-year old veteran also chasing the elusive ring in the twilight of his career. Despite his declining athleticism, he still brought an effective mixture of strength, physicality and skill to the Jazz frontcourt – where he served as Malone’s primary backup and often filled in as Utah’s “crunch-time” center because of his intelligence, shooting, and toughness.
When filling in for Malone at power forward – Carr was an effective low-post presence and pick&pop big against opposing reserves which allowed Utah to run their same sets regardless of who was playing PF. He had a left-shoulder jumphook, a right-shoulder fade-away jumper that he could shoot on either block, and a left-shoulder turn-around jumper on the right block. Playing with Malone, his ability to hit the mid-range jumpshot opened up the paint and gave the Jazz their valued floor-spacing for Malone in the post and Stockton in their precision halfcourt offense. Defensively, with his girth and strength he was able to fight centers (in a era when there were many premier centers) for low-post position to at least make them work at both ends of the court and still make the occasional above-the-rim play in help-situations.
Carr’s age and durability concerns led to the Jazz opting not to re-sign him following the 1997-98 season much to his chagrin. (Ironically the Jazz brought back 37-year old Thurl Bailey who offered durability with the same mid-range jump shooting but didn’t have the same physicality to play center with Malone). Carr signed with division rival Houston but was limited due to both injury and lack of playing time (although he did make his “presence” felt during garbage time of his SLC homecoming game). He played one more season with Vancouver before retiring at age-38.
Carr will never have his #55 jersey retired and won’t wow anyone with his 7.5 ppg as a Jazzman – but he was one of the most popular players in the Jazz’s glory days and forever left his mark on the fanbase. From his perfect 10-10 shooting performance in 1996, to showing tears of emotion following “The Shot,” to hitting the game-winning free throws to beat the Lakers in the playoffs – the “Big Dawg” gave the Jazz many great moments but he never had a more memorable performance than in the 1998 NBA Finals.
In team history the Jazz have won a total of 4 Finals games – and the Big Dawg barked his loudest in what remains to date as the franchise’s last NBA Finals victory.