Can the Jazz pull off an upset with their gritty style of play?
Following a convincing four-game sweep over the Trailblazers and a week of rest, the title favorite Golden State Warriors will be back on the court to face the Utah Jazz in round two.
After facing a favorable matchup in round one against an offensive oriented group in Portland, the Warriors will have to adjust to the gritty style of the Utah Jazz. The series will boast two of the NBA’s best defenses, led by two Defensive Player of the Year candidates in Rudy Gobert and Draymond Green.
Despite the Warriors being heavily favored to win this series, the stark contrast in styles and defensive prowess makes for an intriguing second round matchup.
The two teams are coming off drastically different series that demonstrate the anticipated clash of styles in this series. The Warriors trounced the Blazers by 18 points per game while the Jazz come off a grind-it-out, seven-game series against the Clippers.
First round comparison:
|Team||Series Length||+/-||Fast Break Pts||Pace||Pts|
(all stats are per game)
In the first round, Utah neutralized the Clippers’ fast paced offense. The Clippers, who averaged over 108 points per game in the regular season, dropped to an average just under 98 in the playoffs.
The Warriors, on the other hand, ran Portland out of the building with their offense and three-point shooting. Leading the playoffs in just about every offensive category, the Warriors look like they might do the same to the Utah Jazz…until we look at pace.
Utah maintains the second slowest pace of the remaining playoff teams while the Warriors rank at the top. In fact, the Warriors averaged nearly 10 more field goal attempts per game than the Jazz during the regular season. With their gritty and tactical approach to the game, the Jazz have shown the ability to slow down high-paced offenses. Dictating tempo and adjusting to pace will be the key to taking the series.
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In the regular season, the Jazz ranked last in pace below even the Memphis Grizzlies and the aging San Antonio Spurs. In three regular season games against the Warriors, the Jazz showed the ability to dictate tempo and slowed the Warriors’ pace.
|Pace||Pts per game||Fast Break Points|
Even with the slower pace, the Warriors demonstrated the strength of their machine-like half-court offense and posted a strong 106.9 offensive rating on the Jazz during the season. The only loss was towards the end of the season in a game Klay Thompson missed and Kevin Durant was on restricted minutes. In this video, the Jazz sprinted back to stop a Warriors fast break. However, smart ball movement led to an easy three points for the Warriors.
With the lineup at full strength, the Warriors’ ball movement in the half-court and shooting ability should neutralize the Jazz’s attempts at slowing tempo.
Battle of Defensive Heavyweights
While Utah is known for its defense, led by ‘The Stifle Tower’ Rudy Gobert protecting the rim, Golden State’s defense is overshadowed by the team’s offense. However, the two teams put up top three defensive ratings during the regular season.
|Team||Defensive Rating||OPP FG%||OPP 3P%||OPP Fast Break Pts||Opp Pts Paint|
|Warriors||101.1 (2nd)||43.5 (1st)||32.4 (1st)||14.4 (25th)||45.4 (23rd)|
|Jazz||44.3 (3rd)||44.3 (2nd)||35.8 (18th)||10.5 (2nd)||41.0 (8th)|
Typically, high-paced offenses don’t have the stats of a top-tier defense, however, the star-studded Warriors ranked near the top in nearly every defensive category. While the two teams statistically rank in the top-five in almost every defensive metric, the teams have had weaknesses on that end of the floor.
The Warriors’ fast style of play has led to a great deal of turnovers and fast break points. And, their commitment to ‘small-ball’ has led them to be vulnerable in the paint, ranking in the bottom-10 in opponent points per paint.
Despite these disadvantages heading into the series, the Warriors’ defense should remain strong as the Jazz simply lack the talent to take advantage. Utah ranked nearly last in fast break points and turnovers forced during the season. And, while the team has a great deal of size, big men Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are known more for their defense than paint scoring, an area in which Utah ranked 18th.
Like the Warriors, the Jazz rank near the top in almost every defensive category and could statistically be considered the top defensive team of this season. However, Utah’s one downfall is lacking strong defense at the three-point line.
Utah ranked in the bottom half in opponent three-point percentage: a red flag when facing the Splash Brothers. The Warriors ranked top five in three pointers made during the season and drained 39 percent of these shots in their matchups with the Jazz in the regular season.
The Jazz’s subpar three-point defense and inability to take advantage of the Warriors’ defensive holes greatly hurts their chances at pulling off the upset in this series.
X-Factor: Rudy Gobert
While the Warriors remain heavy favorites heading into the series, the Jazz’s defensive enforcer Rudy Gobert has the size and ability to hurt the Warriors on both ends.
In three games against the Warriors this season, Gobert averaged over 17 rebounds a game and dominated the glass. If he can keep this up, Gobert can offset the small-ball lineup of the Warriors when 6’7” Draymond Green steps into the center position.
Offensively, Gobert’s aggressiveness inside could factor into the series. The 7’1” center averaged 15.0 points per game in wins this season compared to his 12.6 in losses. Even though he doesn’t have the most skilled repertoire inside, his pure size could cause problems for a team that struggles guarding the paint.
Lastly, his defense can have a profound impact on any game. The 7’8” wingspan and ability to close off passing lanes could hurt the Warriors. In addition, his top-flight rim protection will allow the Jazz perimeter defenders to remain aggressive on the outside chasing shooters.
If Rudy Gobert is fully healthy and aggressive on both ends, Draymond Green and the Warriors will have their hands full due to their lack of size.
Prediction: Warriors in 6
The Warriors’ depth and offensive talent has been on display all season, even against gritty defensive teams like the Jazz. Evident from regular season matchups against the Jazz, the Warriors’ underrated defense and ability to move the ball in the half-court will help them adjust to a slower pace.
However, Utah’s top offensive talent Gordon Hayward was missing from two of these three games. Expect Hayward and the Jazz to take a couple of games due to pure size and gritty play, but the Warriors’ three-point shooting and defense should lead them to the conference finals.
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