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Kragthorpe: Jazz find out quickly that Warriors are a cut above the Clippers

Published May 3, 2017 3:52 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Oakland, Calif.

Before knowing their opponent in the NBA's Western Conference semifinals, the Golden State Warriors organized a 10-year reunion for Game 1.

That explains how the Warriors unwittingly observed one of the most memorable playoff runs in Jazz history, with Utah visiting Oracle Arena. If that coincidence created a healthy sign for the Jazz, the friendly vibe did not last long. Golden State coasted to a 106-94 victory Tuesday.



The Warriors' performance on a relatively unspectacular night suggested that anything other than a sweep in this series would represent an achievement from a Jazz perspective. The pre-series odds were slightly better for a Golden State sweep than a five-game competition, and Game 1 did nothing to alter that outlook.

The Jazz's third-quarter effort of outscoring Golden State 27-26, with Rodney Hood scoring 10 points, was mildly encouraging. But then the Warriors scored the first 10 points of the fourth period, building a 21-point lead as Jazz center Rudy Gobert rested — extending a theme of Game 1.

Golden State outscored the Jazz by only three points in the 30 minutes when Gobert played, but enjoyed a 17-point edge in the 12 minutes when Derick Favors was on the court. That statistic is a symptom of the Jazz's bench issues, not Favors' problem, but it is striking.

"If you have those moments when you're not urgent [defensively], they just punish you for it," said Jazz coach Quin Snyder.

So in multiple ways, the reality hit home for the Jazz: They're not in Los Angeles anymore.

The team that won three road games against the Clippers, including a convincing victory in Sunday's Game 7, was overwhelmed in critical moments Tuesday. The Jazz battled, as usual, but Golden State always answered — in a hurry, with a flurry.

Looking back at his team's '07 run, former Warriors guard Jason Richardson said, "We just ran into a wall against Utah."

Ten years later, the Jazz subjected themselves to a Golden State tidal wave.

As opposed to the Golden State team that lost to the Jazz in five games in 2007 after knocking off No. 1 seed Dallas in the "We Believe" series, nothing is surprising about the current Warriors' surges. Golden State's lasting image of that '07 series is Baron Davis' posterizing dunk over Andrei Kirilenko during a Game 3 victory, the Warriors' only win.

Selecting the signature moment of Tuesday's game requires a screening of all the highlights. It might have been Steph Curry's one-on-one dance with Gobert on the perimeter, ending with Curry's drive for a layup. Or was it Draymond Green's strip of Gordon Hayward's layup attempt, leading to Kevin Durant's soaring dunk at the other end? Or maybe JaVale McGee's dunk over Boris Diaw in the third quarter?

Regardless, the Warriors are relentless. The Jazz fought through a rough start to stay within 18-17. Golden State suddenly went ahead by 17 points, exploiting Gobert's brief absence. In that context, the Jazz's trailing 58-46 at halftime seemed reasonable.

And then they got within seven points to begin the third quarter, only to have Golden State respond with another big run. That's what the Dubs do.

And the Jazz just couldn't keep up, not with Hayward and George Hill going a combined 7 of 24 from the field after being brilliant Sunday. "They're a terrific defensive team, and we've got to be better offensively to attack them," Snyder said.

Golden State's defense looked "very similar to what we expected," Hayward said.

The Warriors' offensive numbers were not dazzling, as Curry led the team with 22 points. Then again, nobody scored more than Gobert's 13 for the Jazz. And the Warriors were efficient, committing only seven turnovers — "Take me out of it, we had three," Curry said, modestly.

"We can score in bunches if we just make the simple play," said acting coach Mike Brown.

Brown cited "a little rut every once in a while," but such offensive lapses didn't last long and were barely noticeable.

Snyder altered his starting lineup Tuesday, using forward Joe Johnson in place of Boris Diaw and matching Johnson against Kevin Durant.

Strategy aside, the biggest question going into Game 1 was how each team would respond to its circumstances. The Warriors had not played since April 24, when they completed a first-round sweep of Portland, while the Jazz played seven demanding games with the Clippers.

Brown spoke of "a lot of concerns about the layoff." Snyder was curious about his own team's approach: "Are we going to be drained, feeling we just won a series? Or are we going to be enthused and energetic, because it's on to the next thing?"

Another key subject was how Gobert and other Jazz defenders would deal with the Warriors' diverse, explosive offense. "If Gobert is a factor, that's a big advantage for the Jazz," said Jazz television analyst Matt Harpring, and that proved true.

The conclusion from Game 1, though, is that beating the Warriors even once in this series will require something extraordinary from the Jazz. Gobert's playing all 48 minutes is not among those possibilities.

kragthorpe@sltrib.com Twitter: @tribkurt

 

 

 

 

 

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