After a loss in game 1, can the Jazz rebound to make their second round series against Golden State interesting?
Following their first round victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games, the Utah Jazz have one of the most unenviable jobs in the NBA: playing the Golden State Warriors in a playoff series. As Golden State continues their annual march to the Finals, could the Jazz prove doubters wrong and give the Warriors a series? It is unlikely, but Utah’s upstart roster could provide more of a challenge than some people may think.
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While it took Utah all seven games to dispatch Chris Paul and the Clippers, their roster is deceptively deep. Backing up the young core of Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, Utah is bolstered by talented, savvy veterans like George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw. In their bid to land Kevin Durant in the offseason, Golden State sacrificed much of their depth, which could benefit Utah if the series continues longer than four games.
The Jazz were 1-2 in the season series this year, with two of those games separated by only seven points. The outlier is the December 20th game, which Utah lost 104-74. However, when the Jazz can execute on the offensive end, their hard-nosed defense is enough to keep them in most games. In the NBA this season, Utah gave up the fewest points per game in the league at 96.8 per contest, while boasting the fourth best point differential for the year.
Defense is the calling card for the Utah Jazz, and if they have any hope to make this series competitive, they will need to dig in to hold down the explosive Golden State offense. Despite their strong defense, the team ranks 29th in both steals and forcing turnovers per game. Golden State moves the ball very well, so the Jazz would be wise to try and get in the passing lanes to trigger some fast breaks.
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The 3-point line is the another weakness in Utah’s defense; they ranked 18th in the NBA this season, allowing opponents to shoot 35.8% from deep. While their arc defense has improved in the playoffs (LAC shot 37.5% during the regular season and 34.8% in round one), Utah will need to commit to stopping the Warriors’ barrage, as GSW has shot over 40% from three in the playoffs.
The one clear advantage that the Jazz have is their length and physicality, particularly at the center position. Rudy “The Stifle Tower” Gobert enjoyed his best season as a pro in 2016-17, averaging 14.0 PPG, 12.8 rebounds and a league-leading 2.6 blocks per game. As Gobert continues to develop his offensive game, he must steamroll Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee on both ends of the floor to give Utah a puncher’s chance. As an elite defensive center, Gobert will serve to discourage Golden State penetrators if the Jazz guards can chase shooters off the 3-point line.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, they are a below average scoring team only mustering 100.7 PPG as a team, 28th in the NBA. Against the second best defensively rated team in the league (allowing 104.0 points per 100 possessions), the Jazz may not be able to score enough to stay competitive. On both sides of the court, pace is at the heart of Utah’s play style, for better or worse.
Quin Snyder’s Jazz team also plays at a grindingly slow pace: 91.6 possessions per 48 minutes, dead last in the NBA. In contrast, Golden State averages nearly 100 possessions, good for fourth in the league. If the Jazz have any hope of mounting an unlikely challenge, they will need to dictate the pace of play. Their discerning, contemplative pace explains both their low offensive output,as well as their effective defense; they control the number of possessions per game.
The Jazz must also limit turnovers to hold their own with Golden State; GSW scored 10 of their 27 first quarter points in the teams’ first meeting off Utah turnovers. When the Warriors are running, the Jazz cannot get their defense set on the other end. In the regular season, Utah averaged 12.9 giveaways per contest (12th in the NBA), while Golden State forced the most per game in the league at 15.5. While it’s not a stat that jumps out of the box score, turnover differential could be one of the biggest determining factors in this series.
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While the smart money is overwhelmingly in Golden State’s favor, the Utah Jazz can mount a challenge if they continue to play the fundamental basketball they’re known for. Dictating the pace and limiting turnovers are key to Utah’s (slim) chances, and their failure in these areas led to their double-digit loss in Game 1. Despite the veteran presence, the unfriendly atmosphere at Oracle Arena may have also thrown the young Jazz off their game. If they make the necessary adjustments, Utah has the personnel to challenge Golden State, even if they looked overmatched in Game 1.
Edited by Joe Sparacio.
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