Heading into this postseason, I had three teams that I advocated strongly for that no one else did. One was the Wizards, one was the Bucks, and one was this Utah team.
All three of these teams were underrated and have dudes who are under-appreciated and/or hadn’t proved themselves. The Bucks have Giannis (He certainly left his mark), the Wizards have Otto Porter (Who’s in line for a max contract), and Utah has Gordon Hayward, who’s also in line for a max contract, and has multiple, extremely valuable role players surrounding him. That is the single reason why the Jazz are here. It’s also the single reason why Utah could give Golden State some trouble.
This isn’t a Jazz in 7 pick. In fact, I don’t think they are gonna beat the Warriors.
But they can give them a run. Here’s what needs to happen.
Utah has to get random contributions from their bench
We saw these type of things happen with a bunch of teams in round one. The Bulls took the Celtics to six games after Rajon Rondo started caring and Bobby Portis hit shots (51% shooting in this series). The Grizzlies challenged the Spurs after Zach Randolph turned into a monster and Mike Conley had the big game I envisioned at least once. Contributions from Utah’s role players will have to continue if they want to challenge Golden State
The Warriors are much better defensively than the Clippers though. They’re more athletic and have more depth. Scorers like Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson won’t be as productive up against Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. When those guys sit, Utah must put out lineups capable of making shots. The Warriors wing depth isn’t great behind KD and Klay. Johnson and Hood must capitalize.
Gordon Hayward must be a star
He’s Utah’s best player. Obviously, he won’t be the best one in this series. But, for Utah to have a chance, he has to shine. His dominance (Okay, he’s not really dominant, but he’s the Jazz’s best option for that word) in combination with the scoring of Johnson and Hood (Oh! And Derrick Favors! What a rejuvenation series for him!) could overwhelm the Warriors in a couple games.
KD can lock him down, which is a problem, but if Hayward really wants to prove himself to the majority of the NBA viewership (Us junkies know he’s good), then this is the series to do it.
The defense has to be A+
Utah’s defensive strategy in this series consists of three things: Beating up Stephen Curry, keeping the rotation fresh, and letting Draymond beat you.
The formula on how to stop Curry is out: If you use your hands, foul without getting called, and make it rough, he’s containable. The shooting is tough to stop; thats what you have to deal with when you’re up against the best shooter of all time. But containing his drives to the rim and that gorgeous floater is obtainable. Though he consistently loses, watch how Chris Paul attacks Curry. He’s physical and relentless.
Whoever may be on Curry this series… George Hill, Joe Ingles, Dante Exum… has to stick to those principles. There’s no way you’re winning that matchup if those things don’t happen.
One of Utah’s greatest strengths is their depth, and it’s going to be tested in this series. The Jazz have options; dudes who could give each Golden State offensive juggernaut trouble individually. But collectively, someone’s getting left open. It’s the same problem every team has encountered while facing the Warriors. It’s what happens when you have four of the twelve best players in the league on the same roster.
It’s gonna take some creative lineups from Quin Synder for Utah to contain the Warriors, but Utah has the specialists needed.
Draymond Green is awesome. He’s one of the most athletic players in the league’s history (That is, when you account for his size). He single-handley killed the traditional power forward position, invented the stretch 4, and is one of the best defensive players in the league.
But, his offensive skills, while impressive, aren’t gonna kill you. His offensive skill set isn’t the type to be the best player on a championship team. Let him shoot and avoid helping; Utah has to keep the good shooters locked down.
Utah has the roster to force a Game 7. They have enough scorers and good enough defenders. A couple of things though will have to break their way. There’s no way the Jazz can play better than the Warriors for three games without the Warriors hurting themselves. Golden State’s had games this season where they go cold and can’t hit anything. There’s one Jazz win.
The 2nd and 3rd ones come from Utah’s offense. Gordon Hayward will have a big game; that stat line has to look something like 35+ points on 13/22 shooting with four threes. Him dominating and that momentum secures another win.
The last win comes from the bench production. It includes Joe Johnson and Rodney Hood draining off isoes, Joe Ingles hitting shots, and Derrick Favors limping around making stuff happen.
Now watch the Jazz get swept.
Pick: Warriors in 7