- Ken Cross
NBA Playoffs: Warriors vs. Jazz Preview
The Utah Jazz’s Game 7 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday was the franchise’s first win of a playoff series in seven years. With that, the Jazz are hunting the most magnificent of prey in opening the best-of-seven quarterfinals series in Oracle Arena against the rested Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night. The Warriors have been off for over a week after sweeping Portland last Monday.
With Kevin Durant playing in only two of the four games, Stephen Curry once again proved his superstar mantra, shooting 43 percent from the three-point line and averaging 29.8 points and 6.5 assists. Draymond Green led the Warriors with 30 assists in the series as well making 11-of-20 triples.
Utah used a more physical presence in Derrick Favors inside in the 104-91 Game 7 win against the Clippers as Rudy Gobert was foul-ridden the entire afternoon. Gordon Hayward averaged a steady 24 points per game in the Clippers series.0 He was besieged with food poisoning in Game 3 and only played 10 minutes.
This is the third consecutive season that the Warriors move on to the Western Conference Semifinals. It is the fourth meeting between Golden State and Utah in the playoffs. Two of the three previous were first round matchups as Golden State took two in 1987 and 1989 while the Jazz won the 2007 encounter after the right-seeded Warriors knocked off Dallas in the opening round.
Three Key Matchups:
Warriors full-court pace vs. Jazz in the half-court - The Golden State Warriors offense is possibly the most efficient and intriguing in NBA history. In fact, that idea was highlighted once again in the 45-point outburst in the first quarter of Game 4 which turned into a 72 in the first half. The matchup with the Warriors’ four-guard sets will give the Jazz trouble since their foot-speed, in general, is a matchup problem when the Warriors spread the floor Help and recover defense is a challenge when Green nails the three as he does. It’s all about matchups, but the Warriors’ averages in that first round sweep of Portland superseded everything that they piled up in their last two NBA Finals seasons.
Utah has proven how well it can play in the half-court on both ends of the floor. Quinn Snyder does an excellent job setting up Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, and Gordon Haywood up with high-low post action that complements their offensive skills. Defending Curry, Green, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant, even in the half-court, almost plays into the Warriors hands with how strong their passing game is and how quickly these guys can catch and shoot. The Jazz have no chance going up and down with Golden State, so this is the lesser of two evils.
Golden State’s depth vs. Utah’s lack of depth - The deep Warriors can play a finesse style or they can keep throwing bodies at an opponent in the paint as JaVale McGee, and David West can come off the bench and assemble viable minutes behind Green and Zaza Pachulia. McGee may be the most interesting study as he averaged 78.3 percent from the floor in the first round as he could catch and score in the paint as 17 of his 24 shots came within five-feet of the basket. That, of course, will not be the norm against a shot blocker such as Robert, but if he or Pachulia can catch on Gobert and force him to commit, then either/or will turn into passers.
Meanwhile, it’s a huge challenge for the Jazz to be able to find three people off the bench that can cash in nightly, especially from the perimeter. Favors came off the bench Sunday for the 17 points and 11 rebounds; however, he is noted as a starter as he had injury issues throughout the season and came off the bench. Joe Johnson and Rodney Hood have to come up huge on a nightly basis. Johnson was 8-of-11 from the floor in the clutch (five minutes remaining and the score within five points) against the Clippers. He was also third in Jazz history in finishing the season at 41.1 percent from three. Hood, scored 18 and 16 points in Utah’s Game 4 and Game 5 wins over the Clippers, which is a correlation that is not a coincidence.
Stephen Curry vs. George Hill - Hill has done an outstanding job in coming to Salt Lake City and giving the Jazz a steady veteran with playoff experience who could steer tings for the Jazz when they become rough. Sunday was the 88th playoff game of his career. When he and Hayward were on the floor together this season they combined for 37.7 points per game as Utah went 28-13 with that duo. Hill missed 33 games due to injury on the season, but seems to be consistent. Hill has to play big minutes on the point as he has by far more experience than backup Dante Exum.
Curry has the luxury of all the offensive weaponry that is assembled around him. The skeptics were laughable in trying to poke holes in his game although the Warriors added Durant and Curry immediately played an even more unselfish style. That said, his 324 threes on the season were the second most in NBA history. Curry even became the Warriors leader in steals in a season with 104, but that flew way under the radar and again underscored his attention to all phases of the game. He is eighth all-time in playoff scoring and 11th in assists.
The Warriors in another sweep. Too many weapons again for the Golden State Warriors, who can neutralize Gobert’s defense in the post with such a fervent three-ball game. Utah hasn’t been to the playoffs in five years and although a series win over the Clippers on the road in a Game 7 is a huge accomplishment, Golden State is another story. The Warriors’ injury situations are about the only thing that can make this interesting as Kevin Durant, in particular, is going to look to put more of a stamp on this series after missing two games vs. Portland. The Warriors are 19-1 since March 12 and that lone loss was at home to Utah which was misleading as Golden State was resting players.
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