The Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz are the same team from different dimensions. One team has a player who is redefining the perimeter, the other has a team redefining the perimeter.
They both feature shooting guards who are deadly from deep, but one was highly touted coming out of college and the other was undrafted from Australia.
They both feature all-star small forwards.
They both have stretch 4s, one is a defensive player of the year, while the other is a clutch offensive player two years from YMCA ball.
One team is an example of the NBA’s offensive future while the other is the future of how the NBA is going to defend that offense. They are fire and ice. Superman and Bizarro.
The Golden State Warriors are built on flash and highlights while the Utah Jazz embody the spirit of Jerry Sloan’s blue collar attitude. The Warriors want to run and run up the score, the Utah Jazz want to put the game on ice then throw liquid nitrogen on it. The Warriors want to spread out a defense and put pressure on the 3 point line, the Utah Jazz want to live in the paint and put a moat around it. The Golden State Warriors feature the league’s best perimeter defender in Draymond Green, the Utah Jazz feature the league’s best interior defender in Rudy Gobert.
The Golden State Warrior’s path to the NBA Finals is about to get a lot more difficult. With the Utah Jazz defeating the Los Angeles Clippers in game 7, it’s now set in stone. The Utah Jazz will face off against the Golden State Warriors.
Many Golden State fans will point to the Golden State Warriors winning the season series 2-1 and the Jazz’s lone win against the Warriors being at the end of the season while Golden State rested players for the second half. But Jazz fans will be quick to point out that Utah has not played Golden State at full strength once.
Golden State Warriors 106 at Utah Jazz 99 - December 9, 2016
In this game the Utah Jazz had a starting lineup of Shelvin Mack, Dante Exum, Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw, and Rudy Gobert play against the Super Warriors. They only lost by 7. Joe Ingles had 21 points in this game and actually scored as many as Kevin Durant.
Utah Jazz 74 at Golden State Warriors 104 - December 20, 2016
In this game the Utah Jazz, Gordon Hayward had just returned from injury and was obviously a little rusty. The Utah Jazz were blown out by 30 points. Their starting lineup was Exum, Rodney Hood, Hayward, Diaw, and Gobert. It was tough sledding.
Utah Jazz 105 at Golden State Warriors 99 - April 10, 2017
Call this game a moral victory. The Utah Jazz were fighting for homecourt still and needed a win and Clippers loss to get it. The Clippers loss didn’t arrive, but the Utah Jazz played at a high level while resting Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, and Derrick Favors. They won that game despite Golden State playing all their starters minus Klay Thompson. Kevin Durant played 32 minutes.
If Utah was healthy all season there’s an argument that Utah would have been the 3 seed, quite possibly the two. Utah’s injuries cost them a combined 9 wins putting them at more of a 60 win team than a 51 win team. This Golden State team has not faced this iteration of Utah once. That’s a frightening concept for Golden State to be game planning for a completely new team and with a trip to the Western Conference Finals on the line.
While Utah should in no way be favored to win the next series against the Warriors, this is a Utah team that is uniquely equipped to counter Golden State’s flying death machine. How?
The Golden State Warriors play at the association’s 4th fastest pace. They average 99.8 possessions a game. Against the Trailblazers last round they averaged 102 possessions a game. That pace is going to come crashing down against the Utah Jazz. The Utah Jazz don’t just want to slow the game down, they want to break it to a pedestrian 91.6 possessions.
On the surface that looks like the Utah Jazz don’t understand advanced analytics. But their slow pace is precisely because they understand advanced analytics. Their league best defense throws teams out of their normal offensive flow. Requiring teams to make severe offensive adjustments. But by the Jazz limiting possessions, teams don’t have the luxury of extra possessions to return back to their normal season averages. The Utah Jazz looked at how the league was advancing and found a niche in 7 seconds or less basketball. That niche? **** your 7 seconds or less basketball. Let’s play 24 seconds and see how you like it.
While Utah doesn’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Warriors, their defense mixed with their slow pace allows for anomalies to occur.
When most talk about Gobert’s impact on defense they’ll immediately point to how the Jazz shut down the paint, but that is the ignorant argument for why Draymond Green should be Defensive Player of the Year and not Gobert. Gobert’s impact in the paint allows his teammates to defend the 3 point line aggressively.
The Golden State Warriors average the 5th most 3 pointers in the league at 31.3 a game while making 38.3% of them. The Utah Jazz only allow their opponents to shoot 22.3 3s a game while only making 35.8% of them. That might not seem like a big deal, but that’s the difference between the Warriors scoring 36 points from 3s and 24 points from 3s. A difference of 12 points. That forces Golden State to make up the difference in the paint where Utah forces opponents to shoot only 47.6%, a league best.
This takes away Golden State’s biggest offensive strength and forces them to play on a bit more level playing field.
Depth at Wing
The Utah Jazz have one thing no other team in the West can throw at Golden State. A never ending onslaught of wing players. While San Antonio has All-Star and MVP Kawhi Leonard at the wing after him there’s not much to throw at Golden State defensively. Kyle Anderson and Johnathon Simmons aren’t going to strike fear into Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson nor are they going to force them to work very hard on the other end. The Houston Rockets feature Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, and Sam Dekker. Once again defensively this isn’t the team to slow down the Warriors.
Then there’s Utah. They have a core of wing players that’s never ending. At one point in this Los Angeles Clippers series they had all four of them on the court together without a point guard. Speaking of Utah’s point guard, George Hill, he has a the wingspan of wing player allowing him to switch onto almost any player 1-4. The Utah Jazz have Joe Ingles who has slowed down the Point God, Chris Paul, and JJ Reddick.
Utah features All-Star Gordon Hayward who is showing the world what he’s capable of on both ends. They have Rodney Hood who can knock down 3s when left wide open and can handle the ball. Finally, Joe Johnson has looked like the Joe Johnson of 2007 rather than 2017. This is a team that while it may not have the hype of Golden State, they have the ability to match a feared lineup of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and whoever is starting at Center. And we haven’t even mentioned Alec Burks or Dante Exum who can come in a slow guys down in a pinch.
Fire and Ice
If you wanted to see a series between an unstoppable force and an immoveable object. This is your series. The league’s most devastating offense vs the league’s most feared defense. Yin vs Yang. Ken vs Ryu. Godzilla vs King Kong. Fire vs Ice. Water vs Earth. Bay vs Mountain. The Utah Jazz might not have the offensive firepower to win this series, but they do have the defensive resolve to make the Warriors’ offensive sets a living hell for 7 games.