Down 1-0 Utah could still be the only NBA team (including Cleveland) standing in the way of the Golden State’s second NBA title in three years.
San Antonio has the coach, the stars and the experience, Oklahoma City has the point guard in revenge mode and Cleveland has a chance to repeat and ELO in the hall — but none of these formidable foes potentially standing in between the Golden State Warriors and another hoisting of the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy possess the same threat as the Utah Jazz.
Though the 90-minute flight from SLC had them jetlagged Tuesday night in the series opener (more on that in a bit), Utah closed out the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday with a convincing 104-91 game seven victory. The win gave the land of three-two beer and dry humping its first postseason series victory since 2010 and they did it winning a trio of games on the road. The Jazz are young, virtually unknown, talented, loose and most of all, a couple years ahead of schedule with their, um, mission — a franchise rebuild …which should scare Warriors fans more than the return of Thunder. (Seriously, was that guy made of Stearns and Foster springs …how’s he doing that with his legs?)
…One needn’t look further than Golden State’s own playoff performance in 2007 vs. the no. 1 seeded Dallas Mavericks to see a blueprint for Utah. At that moment, the Warriors were taking on a Mavericks squad which had compiled one of the best records in NBA regular season history. Golden State’s game 1 victory in Dallas with guard Baron Davis in full control set the tone. With the series knotted at one, the highest paid attendance crowd for an NBA game at Oracle gave the Warriors an almost insurmountable home-court advantage and they took two straight.
Dallas squeaked out a win at home for game 5 but game 6 in Oakland the Warriors went on an 18-0 run in the third quarter behind Stephen Jackson’s heat-checking 13 straight points to finish the Mavs. Golden State became the first #8 seed to win a best-of-7 series in the first round, and just the third overall in NBA history.
There were a few harbingers that Dallas didn’t match up well against the Warriors (Golden State was 3-0 vs. Dallas in the regular season) but regular season NBA games are rarely fail proof indicators of how some teams, especially championship-level squads, are going to perform down the playoff stretch. However, Utah does have a couple of the same indicators that they could still pull a 2007 Warriors-type upset.
The first is a regular season performance. Though the Warriors took the first two matchups against the Jazz this year, a late-season matchup (April 10) showed a Utah squad in full and they went on to cruise to a 105-99 victory. Though Golden State did not come at it full steam, the Warriors didn’t play their starters in the fourth quarter — even so, Durant, Green and Curry played 30-plus minutes each, and all seemed perplexed by the play of Jazz center Rudy Gobert who has checked in post All-Star break with 16.8 points per game on 71.5-percent shooting. He also averaged 13.1 rebounds and 3.14 blocks during that time. Overall, he led the league in blocked shots (2.67) and was fourth in rebounding (12.8).
With a still not 100-percent Kevin Durant and an athletic-but-streaky JaVale McGee to wage war undreneath, Gobert could be trouble and at least slow the Warriors’ need for constant penetration in the Beehive State.
The x-factor for the Warriors down low Tuesday was Georgian Zaza Pachulia. Pachulia, a journeyman in his 12th season, had 10 points, and 6 rebounds in his 14 minutes. In limited time that comes close to matching his season-best performance (15 points and 14 rebounds in a 117–101 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Dec. 22).
Pachulia, followed by McGee with David West rotating in and pesky Draymond Green basically playing point guard then center then point guard then forward then center again on consecutive possessions — held Gobert to 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots in 30 minutes. Green, in fact, was effing everywhere. During one two-and-a-half-minute stretch in the second half, he blocked Derrick Favors, grabbed a pair of boards, threw a full court pass to West for a layup, made a three, then followed up with a jumper for two and on his way back toward the bench dropped off a double-double Animal Style in the lap of every Warrior wearing his warmup …Klay Thompson placed his underneath his seat for later.
“Never satisfied,” Pachulia said as if Snickers didn’t have reason enough to want to hire a Georgian seven-footer named effing Zaza.
The Warriors’ rotation on Gobert chipped away at the Jazz’s downtempo play strategy — which harkens back to the Stockton/Malone golden-age Jazz. The purple notes play slow, methodic, soul-crushing hoops …even ranking dead last in the NBA with possessions per game.
Give credit to Warriors’ interim head coach Mike Brown for sticking with a “big” lineup Tuesday that had a tough time igniting the somnolent crowd at Oracle but was effective in that it didn’t free up Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw to do further damage in the paint, which in turn meant Joe Ingles and Rodney Hood didn’t get looks from outside.
…But don’t count the Jazz out yet, especially with Steph Curry still aching from seemingly breaking his own ankles in a dribble drive cross up of Gobert…
Warriors' Stephen Curry spins Jazz's Rudy Gobert… pic.twitter.com/01ufii02oP
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 3, 2017
…and heavy reliance on role players like Andre Iguodala and Mos are aching for a winner more than they ache for root beer and porn and the atmosphere there should remind long-time Warriors faithful of what Oracle was like back before winning became commonplace.
Utah has also been waiting a decade to avenge Baron Davis’ posterizing (<-such an annoying, dumb #sportsterm btw, but if there’s one place to use it, it’s describing this dunk) of Andrei Kirilenko.
Not to bring Warriors faithful back down to earff after Tuesday, but it should scare the gentrified shit out of any Warriors fan that FiveThirtyEight gave the Warriors a just over a 70-percent chance of winning the NBA Championship which are precisely the same odds it posted on Hillary to win last November.
Oh so long ago.
The remaining schedule:
Game 2: Utah at Golden State – Thursday, May 4 at 8:30 PM MT on ESPN
Game 3: Golden State at Utah – Saturday, May 6 at 6:30 PM MT on ABC
Game 4: Golden State at Utah – Monday, May 8 at 7:00 PM MT on TNT
Game 5: Utah at Golden State – Wednesday, May 10 TBD on TNT *if necessary
Game 6: Golden State at Utah – Friday, May 12 TBD on ESPN *if necessary
Game 7: Utah at Golden State – Sunday, May 14 TBD *if necessary