The round two Western Conference playoff series between the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors starts on Tuesday at Oracle Arena in Oakland. The Jazz just ended their seven-game series against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, while the Warriors have not played since April 24, after disposing of the Portland Trail Blazers 4-0 in the first round.
Do the Jazz have any chance of winning this series against the stacked Warriors? Let’s take a closer look at this David versus Goliath matchup in the West.
Golden State Warriors vs. Utah Jazz Series Preview
The Warriors won the regular season series against the Jazz 2-1, including a 30-point thrashing on Dec. 20. Oddly, that blowout was the only one of the three meetings in which the Jazz’s All-Star small forward Gordon Hayward played. He was held to only 6 points in the contest. Rudy Gobert was the Jazz’s anchor in all three matchups, scoring 17, 17, and 18 points, respectively – a notch above his regular season average of 14.0 points per game.
Unsurprisingly, the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant led all scorers in the three meetings between the teams, with Curry averaging 26.3 points per game and Durant 19.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. The Jazz must find a way to contain these two superstars and the Warriors’ number one ranked offense if they want to survive in this series.
Adding to the challenges facing the Jazz, the Warriors had the second-best defense in the NBA during the regular season. They held the Jazz to just 94.0 points per 100 possessions in their three games, Utah’s lowest mark against any Western Conference opponent.
The Jazz are no defensive slouch themselves, allowing the fewest points per game (96.8) and ranking third in defensive efficiency (105.3). However, their slow pace has led to them averaging the third-fewest points per game at 100.7, as they rank last in the NBA in possessions per game (94.7).
Draymond Green vs. Boris Diaw / Joe Johnson
When Draymond Green is not kicking people in the groin or insulting NBA legend Charles Barkley, he actually plays extremely impressive basketball. During the regular season, Green averaged 10.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per game. He performed particularly well against the Jazz, racking up double-doubles in two of the three meetings between the teams. Green is also widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the league. He runs the floor well, and on any given night, he can come up big with points, rebounds and/or assists. Green is the ultimate role player.
Veteran Boris Diaw is simply no match for Green, and he’ll likely see limited minutes in favor of reserve Joe Johnson, who is coming off a fantastic first-round performance against the Clippers. Green will have an easier time slowing down Johnson’s offense than the Clippers did, though. This matchup heavily favors the Warriors.
Zaza Pachulia vs. Rudy Gobert
Zaza Pachulia is a veteran center who averaged 6.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game for the Warriors during the regular season. Pachulia is solid, fundamental, and reliable, but has hardly been a contributor to Golden State’s success.
Gobert, on the other hand, has been front and center in the Jazz’s resurgence and recent success. He’s an elite defender and rebounder who, in his fourth year with the Jazz, led the NBA in total blocks (214) and blocks per game (2.6). In addition to his impact on defense, Gobert averaged a career-best 14.0 points a night and led the league in true shooting percentage at 68.3 percent. Gobert has the clear edge in this matchup. If he stays healthy and out of foul trouble, and dominates the paint, the Jazz should stay competitive.
Kevin Durant vs. Gordon Hayward
Hayward solidified his All-Star status during the Jazz’s series against the Clippers. Not including Game Four, in which Hayward played just nine minutes due to illness, he averaged 27.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in six games, shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 45 percent from three-point range. Hayward was also highly effective from the foul line, sinking 95 percent of his free throws. During the regular season, Hayward averaged 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game.
Durant is arguably the best player in the NBA. In the regular season, he averaged 25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game. He missed the later part of the season due to a Grade Two sprained MCL on his left knee, and is still nursing a left calf strain he suffered in the Warriors’ Game One win over the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round.
Kevin Durant's left calf discomfort started late in the third quarter in Game 1. Played/scored through it, but issue apparently lingered pic.twitter.com/2ldgMclKYQ
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 18, 2017
Durant scored 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting in 36 minutes in that game, but the injury kept him out of two of the four games in the series.
Both Hayward and Durant are prolific scorers and above-average defenders. Durant had the edge during the regular season, but the advantage in this round two matchup may depend on Durant’s injury status.
The Warriors will simply prove to be too much for the young Utah squad. Despite the full week off, the Warriors will not miss a beat and will end the series quickly, sweeping the Jazz 4-0.
All non-cited statistics are from Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of May 2, 2017.