Staff Scrimmage: The SCH Team on Round 1 and What’s to Come vs. GSW

May 2nd, 2017 | by Andy Larsen

Utah Jazz forward Joe Johnson (6) looks to pass under pressure from LA Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute (12) and center DeAndre Jordan (6) in the second half of game five of the first round NBA playoffs series between the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, April 25, 2017.

Well that was fun. Let’s do that again.

The Utah Jazz wrapped their best-of-seven series against the Clippers on Sunday with a dominating Game 7 during which they never trailed by more than a single point. Their reward for a job well done is that now they have to face one of the most star-studded teams ever assembled.

A gang of SCH writers got together to reflect on the Jazz’s first series win in seven seasons, and to look ahead at what to expect in a conference semifinal showdown with the formidable Warriors.

What was the defining moment of the Jazz-Clippers series?

 

Matt Pacenza: When Chris Paul kicked out at Gordon Hayward when they tangled up late in Game 7. I admire Paul enormously as a player — depending how long he plays, he may have a claim to be one of the top two or three PGs ever – but his shenanigans wear on anyone but diehard Clippers fans. The Jazz repeatedly stood up to Paul, and his final lashing out in frustration, with the Jazz up double digits, nicely personified which team had kept its cool and prevailed.

Thatcher Olsen: The defining moment of the series was game one, when Joe Johnson came to play. The Jazz were struck a huge blow when Rudy Gobert went down in game one, but Johnson won that game for the Jazz, and he had a huge impact on the series. The offseason signing of Joe was a big move for the Jazz, but his performance throughout the first round has shown just how important he is to the postseason success of this team.

David Smith: Johnson’s game-winner will go down as one of the best Jazz postseason moments of all time. The timing was perfect, accentuated by the smoothness that is Joe Johnson. But beyond that, the team’s reaction was great. It is easy to tell that this is a united team that is excited to go to battle together.

Clark Schmutz: This won’t be a popular answer in Utah, but I think the Blake Griffin injury was the key moment of the series. The Rudy Gobert injury was big, but Derrick Favors and Johnson played so well in his absence and the same was not true of the Clippers’ hodgepodge of power forwards. I’m not confident that the Jazz win that series if Blake Griffin is healthy the entire time. And that’s not a knock on the Jazz at all. I think both the Clippers and Jazz are arguably the second best Western playoff team when healthy.

Dan Clayton: Is there a moment we’ll remember more viscerally than that moment just a few seconds into the series when Gobert collapsed, then crawled down the court in an attempt to will his knee back to strength? The feeling of that moment was inescapable, and the fact that the Jazz overcame everything associated with that moment feels like a perfect microcosm of their year. Also great moments: any number of tough Hayward buckets, Joe Ingles’ block on J.J. Redick a few minutes after Rudy’s injury that I think served to kind of shake the Jazz out of their emotional shock, and of course The Floater.

What about the Jazz’s first-round win surprised you the most?

 

Matt: I did not expect Johnson to be this critical. When he was signed, I figured he would be a nice second-unit scorer and a steady influence on the young squad. But to average nearly 17 points per game in this series, shooting over 50 percent? To dominate several games with repeated late game heroics? To play passable defense as a PF? A huge surprise to me. What a free agent signing by the Jazz.

Thatcher: Ingles. The story of Joe being cut by the Clippers made this series fun from a payback point of view, but Joe also had a huge impact on the series. He played spectacular defense on Redick, shutting him down and at times, and taking him out of the game. He played the role of distributor with Hayward out, leading the Jazz with 11 assists and playing the role of primary ball handler. Finally, he hit big shots down the stretch of game four to close out the win.

David: Simply the fortitude this squad displayed throughout. Losing Gobert seconds into the series, having Hayward come down with food poisoning, tightening up in a potential close-out… this series had all the dramatics. All through it, Utah maintained its effort and showed great heart and character. They did not get too high with the Ws, nor did they slump their shoulders too low in the Ls, including those two heart-breaking ones at Vivint SmartHome Arena. In game seven, Hayward was the best player on the court, a title Paul had held for six games. It seems every player had their moments, from the starters to role players like Dante Exum and Jeff Withey. The depth really came through when it was needed.

Clark: Probably the Jazz’s effectiveness when Gobert was not playing. During the regular season the Jazz were consistently not very good when Rudy left the floor (-2.9 points per 100 possessions), but they found ways to win against the Clippers without him. The Jazz were obviously successful without Gobert in game 1, but I was surprised that they kept that up throughout the series punctuated with a fantastic performance in game 7 without much contribution from the Stifle Tower.

Dan: I said before the series that I felt like Favors’ play would be the biggest X factor. While he had a couple of games where his mobility and lift were lacking, overall he was terrific. Especially in Games 1 (the Rudy injury game) and 7 (the closeout, with Gobert in foul trouble), Favors was phenomenal. I was surprised we got that version of Favors this spring, even though I’m fully confident that the 25-year-old will eventually get back to full health after more than a year of nagging knee and back problems.

What has to happen in the second round Dubs-Jazz series for you to consider it a success?

 

Matt: To not be embarrassed. That might mean at least one win, or several games where it’s close in the last couple of minutes. Barring injuries to the Warriors, it’s unreasonable to expect a long series, given how dominant GSW has been all season long. But the Jazz are so deep, with so many decent, quick and long players, especially on the perimeter, that I think they can – and should – make the Warriors work to advance.

Thatcher: Honestly, winning a series this year was what I considered a successful to very successful season. Everything else is icing on the cake. However, to consider this a successful series, the Jazz need to compete and make the Warriors work hard for every win. That could mean one win, two wins, or even forcing a game seven. The Jazz need to continue to show that same fight and effort they showed in round one, obviously against a much tougher opponent.

David: They need to compete and stay with the things that got them here: stout defense, deft ball movement and oneness as a team. They will need to be prepared to withstand the offensive onslaughts that will undoubtedly come each game. There is also the possibility the team is a bit shell-shocked, but given the way they battled Paul, DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers in a seven-game series, I think this will be mitigated a bit.

Clark: I would just like to see the Jazz be competitive and give the Warriors matchup problems. I think this series is more about the future of the Jazz vs. Warriors than the here and now. I would count success in this series as the Jazz finding ways to consistently cause the Warriors matchup problems and dictate pace, even if the end product was a 4 game sweep. I’d prefer that to the Jazz winning one in a fluke manner with 4 blowouts in the other games, for instance. It’ll be a great learning experience for the Jazz and in some ways, this series is gravy. The postseason has already been a success.

Dan: I agree that it’s mostly gravy at this point: 51 regular season wins and a playoff series victory were about the most I realistically expected when this whole thing started last fall. Everything that happens from here on out is more about educating the young Jazz ahead of their 2018, 2019, 2020 playoff runs. Having said that, it’s hard to get educational value if a series isn’t competitive and you’re not forcing a team to play its best ball. So at bare minimum, I’d be encouraged if the Jazz had the kind of series that forced the Dubs to keep their collective foot on the gas. In eight to 16 days, I want the Warriors to be saying, “Man, I’m glad we’re done with that series.”

Is there a trend from the 1st round that will worry you if it continues in the second round?

 

Matt: Let’s name two. First, Gobert has to stay healthy and out of foul trouble. As well as Favors played, the Jazz need their Defensive Player of the Year candidate to play 30+ minutes each game to keep the Warriors from hitting easy buckets and to make it harder for them to play their no-true-center “death” lineups. Secondly, the Jazz will struggle to stay close if Hood and Ingles shoot 34 and 32 percent, as they did in Round 1.

Thatcher: The Jazz must avoid slow starts. They had a few games against the Clippers where they lacked the energy and effort to begin the game. They were able to get back in it for the most part, but that will be much more difficult against the Warriors. The Warriors can bury you quickly, so a good start is vital for the Jazz.

David: It was encouraging to see both Rodney Hood and Joe Ingles have nice game sevens. Hopefully that carries over instead of the inconsistent shooting seen in the middle of the series. A related topic is the Jazz perhaps being too unselfish. There were numerous instances where players would pass open looks, eventually settling for tougher shots. Given the swarming Golden State defense, Utah simply needs to have confidence and let them fly.

Clark: Going back to my previous answer, I will be concerned if the Jazz are much better with Gobert on the bench this series. That will probably mean that the Warriors are effectively playing Rudy off the floor and I think it is paramount that Rudy be able to cause the Warriors matchup problems and not the other way around. Besides, I can’t handle any more Golden State beat writers comparing Rudy Gobert to Javale McGee.

Dan: Too often in the Clippers series, the L.A. bench got the better of Utah’s. It’s hard to beat an elite team when a player of Paul’s caliber takes a breather and you lose the minutes while he’s sitting. Similarly, Utah’s going to need to make its depth an advantage against Golden State, but that means better play from a bunch of dudes. Hood was mercurial in the first round, and Snyder didn’t get great play from either backup point guard.

What Jazz player will have the biggest impact on Warriors-Jazz?

 

Matt: Hayward. I suspect the Joe Jesus magic will fade a bit, against possibly the best defensive team in the league. Hayward will not only, as always, be the Jazz’s leading scorer who they rely upon to get tough buckets, but he’s certain to be working his tail off on defense, guarding some mix of Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant much of the series. It doesn’t get much harder, or important, than that.

Thatcher: Hayward. The first round may have been Gordon’s introduction to the world, but this is his real time to shine. He can have a big impact on this series. The Blazers didn’t have any wings that posed a threat to Golden State. Hayward will be instrumental in making Kevin Durant work very hard on both offense and defense, which will be one of many great matchups to pay attention to.

David: George Hill. It is not shocking that Utah came way with victories when Hill was good to very good versus the Clippers. His defense on CP3 in game seven was huge. Now he goes from one All-NBA point guard to another in Steph Curry. Hill will need to be smart on defense and try to stay with Curry. All he needs is a few inches to get a 3-pointer off. Hill will also need to make Curry work on defense, where he sometimes struggles.

Clark: Joe Ingles. Whether or not Ingles is able to slow down Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant for periods of time and whether or not he’s able to knock down open 3 pointers (because he’s going to get some), will be the difference between whether or not the Jazz are competitive or doormats in this series.

Dan: You don’t compete with a team like Golden State unless multiple guys play well, but I think Gobert is the lynchpin. Smallball is going to favor the Warriors, so Utah has to get enough from Gobert that the Dubs feel the cost of going small. Hayward will have to keep doing Hayward things, but Gobert might be the one thing GSW has no clear answer for, if he’s playing his best ball. (I’m also interested to see who Steph Curry will be guarding, and how that dynamic plays out over 4-7 games.)

Andy Larsen

Andy Larsen

Andy Larsen is the Managing Editor of Salt City Hoops, the ESPN TrueHoop affiliate for the Utah Jazz. He also hosts a radio show and podcast every week on ESPN700 AM in Salt Lake City.
Andy Larsen

2 Comments

  1. Spencer says:

    Favors

    Favors has consistently been good against the Warriors. Jordon is the worst possible matchup for Favors because he takes so much energy to box out and defend that offensive legs are gone plus you have to try to score with Jordon in the way.

    The Warriors should be different. I think the Jazz should spend some time with Favors and Gobert on the court. Gobert should get 30-35 minutes and Favors 25. Now that Favors is in better game shape, he those two should be able to overpower and out rebound the Green/Pachulia/McGhee.

    10-15 minutes where these two defend the paint and get tons of rebounds is feasible and could be a bellwether for future series.

    Hayward/Hood/Hill/Ingles/(hopefully)Exum will not have near the advantage they had in the last series as far as talent, but the aggregate muscle/size is still an advantage. Curry especially needs to feel like he as been physically abused when trying to defend.

  2. Spencer says:

    A second thought.

    Ingles made Reddick look like he didn’t belong in the NBA. I’ve always wondered why more players don’t block the shot when they are right there (I’m looking at you Favors) like Ingles did to Reddick. You do that once or twice in a series and players simply shoot less and when they do they are worried about getting blocked. IF Ingles can do something remotely close with Thompson. Block a couple of shots and put him below 30% from three for the series, we are onto something.

    Same goes for Curry. I would coach this and I would play Exum as backup on Curry and have him try for one block a game while still defending under control.

    The Clipper’s collective footspeed (Paul, Rivers, Crawford, Felton) in many ways is harder to match-up against for the Jazz than the shooting. We have lots of length, but not tons of footspeed. Golden State is similar. There just aren’t a lot of guys who can blow by us.

    If we can hold GS under 105 points we can be in the game. I believe we can on most nights especially with the slower pace we can force.

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