2017 NBA Playoffs: Warriors vs Jazz
Two teams are meeting for game one of their 2017 NBA Playoffs second round matchup in the Western Conference and their journeys could not have been more different. The Warriors cruised for a majority of the season as the number one overall seed. They went through some drama and an injury to their star free agent signing Kevin Durant but locked in the Western Conference number one seed. They swept the Portland Trail Blazers in convincing fashion despite not having their head coach Steve Kerr for the final two game of the Series due to complications stemming from his back surgery. The Dubs have patiently waited for a little over a week for their second round opponent.
The Utah Jazz was everyone’s sexy pick to make a push in the Western Conference and possibly challenge the likes of Golden State and San Antonio. Utah turned in a successful season and the fifth seed in the Western Conference despite some drama of their own centered around the upcoming free agency for both starting point guard George Hill and All-Star forward Gordon Hayward. Their first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers had it all. An injury to their defensive player of the year candidate big man Rudy Gobert, Joe Johnson hit some clutch shots and Hayward had an illness for one game. On top of it all, they went seven games against the Clippers only to win on the road in the decisive game.
As the Warriors continue to cement their legacy among the great NBA teams, they run into a hungry and motivated Utah Jazz team looking to possibly be the one team that could upset the Warriors in the playoffs, if all breaks right for them. It should be one of the better series in the 2017 NBA Playoffs unless the Dubs dominate.
Utah Keys to the Series
The thing that the Jazz have and what many others teams do not is Rudy Gobert. The French big man, who has battled some injury issues in the last round against the Los Angeles Clippers, is the leading candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year award. His defense will most likely decide how long this series goes. While George Hill will be tasked with defending Stephen Curry at the point of attack and Gordon Hayward will be the man on Kevin Durant, Gobert will have a clear advantage on the interior against the Warriors big men, outside of Draymond Green. Gobert needs to also be ready for the switches on pick and roll in this series. The Warriors, unlike the Clippers at times, will probably try to exploit Gobert switched on to Durant or Curry in the pick and roll. While he’s stranded out on the three point line, the rest of the Warriors will cut inside and feast.
Defense, as simple as it sounds, will be how the Jazz can win this series. They just need four great defensive games, headlined by Gobert, to steal this series. With Derrick Favors ailing and the only other big man option being Boris Diaw, Rudy Gobert will have to be the difference maker.
Can they put points on the board? Well, they better be ready to score. To put it simply, trying to keep up with the Warriors, a team who finished in the top 10 of every major offensive category this season, is going to be a daunting task for a Jazz team who often his lulls in scoring. The Jazz has moments of their own for sure on their offensive end but their defense will be the biggest key for them. Trying to keep up with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson is not a fight you want, just ask Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Gordon Hayward will be able to get his 20-25 points, George Hill can drop 15 or so and despite his injury, Derrick Favor is still a threat for 20 points but who else will step up? Can Joe Johnson continue his 2017 NBA Playoffs renaissance and come off the bench for 15-20 of his own? Will this be the series when we see Rodney Hood take that next step as one of the best young two guards in the league? Does Joe Ingles still have a couple more three-pointers in him? Putting points on the board will be the key for Utah, they just need to get more than their All-Star to do it consistently.
Warriors Keys to the Series
The Warriors need to continue to decimate their competition. At times last year, for one reason or another, the Warriors let some teams fight back into series by winning a game or two. It just unnecessarily prolonged their season and creates more issues down the line whether it be guys being tired or potentially suffering an injury. The Warriors need to make quick work of a team they’re heavily favored against. The Jazz winning a game wouldn’t be an utter shock but anything more than a five game series is not what they need right now. Run a tight ship, close the series as early as possible and get ready for the Conference Finals.
It’s hard to pick weaknesses on a team with four NBA All-Star players and an NBA Finals MVP all on the same roster so their weakness might actually be on the sidelines. Head coach Steve Kerr is not expected to return to the team anytime soon and that could be a problem for some guys. The players are all pros and have spent a long time in the league so overall it might not be a problem but in a tight situation or rapid reaction moment, will interim head coach Mike Brown shy away from Steve Kerr’s plan and rely on his own instincts? It’s human nature to do so, so you can’t blame him if he does. Don’t let narrative fool you, Brown is a good NBA coach. But is he a good Steve Kerr replacement? This series could dictate that more than ever.
Joe Ingles, of course. The Aussie forward started to show some signs of being a difference maker in the Jazz first round series against the Clippers. His versatility as a wing man on the defensive end along with his ability to hit shots and be a willing and able passer on the offensive end make him a prime target for the Jazz to anchor some hopes on. Now, he won’t light up the scoring sheet and his defense isn’t on Draymond Green levels of good but Ingles can hold his own. He’ll need to come up big in his role if the Jazz hopes to pull off anything miraculous in this series.
For the Dubs, their bench will have to match the productivity the Jazz bench showed in round one. There will be some sort of bench rotation for Utah consisting of Derrick Favors, Joe Johnson and Raul Neto with either Joe Ingles or Rodney Hood as the other wingman coming off the bench for the Jazz. The Warriors made it through round one with the major bench contributions coming from Andre Iguodala, David West, JaVale McGee and Patrick McCaw. It could just mean the Warriors starting lineup is that good but they need some rest too. If Shaun Livingston returns from injury and the reserve big men continue to make a difference on the interior along with McCaw and Iguodala adding versatility and athleticism to an already athletic and switchy team, the Dubs could run rough shot through Utah with a productive bench.
Look, Utah is fun and exciting. Yes, in game one against the Clippers they overcame a big injury to Rudy Gobert and stole the victory on the road in the final seconds. But the Clippers are nowhere on the same level of the Warriors. I expect Golden State to really control not only the pace of this game but really make it hard for Rudy Gobert to do what he does best on the interior.
Warriors defeat the Jazz 4-1.
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