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Game 2 Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Utah Jazz

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You sometimes worry about a team with a long layoff before a playoff series against an opponent that’s in a rhythm from playing more recently, but this Warriors squad always felt above all that. Any doubt there may have lingered for a half or so in Tuesday night’s Game 1 against the Jazz, but was quickly extinguished during a couple dominant runs.

Both teams did have some early-series sloppiness, though Golden State’s margin for error is quite a bit larger and their fresher legs showed through eventually. The Jazz did a reasonable job running the Warriors off the three-point line and leaving the right guys open from deep, surrendering just 7-of-29 from beyond the arc – even with solid game-planning from Utah, expect that figure to rise as the series goes on.

The trickle-down from here, though, was a lot of space for the Warriors nearer to the basket. They found several back cuts with the Jazz overplaying screens out beyond the three-point line, demonstrating the power of the long ball even when it wasn’t falling. The Warriors shot a cool 60 percent on two-pointers for the night.

Utah’s sloppiness was most visible in their lack of ball control. Fourteen Jazz turnovers led to 20 Warriors points, and the Dubs held a startling 29 to 6 advantage in fast break points – an area the Jazz have been strong in defending all year long. The Jazz actually did a solid job of slowing the pace and playing at their tempo otherwise (the game was played at a 92 possession pace, right in Utah’s wheelhouse and very slow by the Warriors’ standards), but all these easy points were way too much to overcome. The Jazz aren’t likely to win any game this series where they give up so many easy chances on the break.

Expect that to tighten up for Utah, but their larger problem moving forward might be their own offense – or the Warriors’ defense, depending how you look at it. Golden State was smothering in Game 1, led as always by Draymond Green’s remarkable brand of controlled chaos. The Jazz don’t have the one-on-one scoring talent to combat Golden State’s extreme switching scheme with Green at the fulcrum; a strong third quarter run from Rodney Hood and a few garbage time buckets aside, they looked out of rhythm for most of the game.

Both Gordon Hayward and George Hill struggled to find their spots, forcing a number of tough shots. The Jazz were just 9-of-29 on their own three-point attempts, and the quality of these was a lot lower than their typical average. With better wing defenders on the court than they faced in round one against the Clippers, guys like Hayward and Joe Johnson will struggle to generate the same quality of looks throughout the series. The Jazz can still tighten up their choices on which matchups to exploit, though, and maybe dictate their own offensive flow a bit more.

On the whole, the Warriors looked like the better-prepared team – not a surprise given the difference in prep time leading into Tuesday. With just a day between every game in this series rather than the occasional two-day breaks we saw in the first round, the Jazz will have limited time to drill down their adjustments.

To pick up a game or two in the series, Utah’s defensive discipline on the three-point line will have to continue, without the accompanying ease for the Warriors in the paint. A few less miscommunications should clear some of this up, and the Jazz will have to hope Derrick Favors (a minus-17 in just 12 minutes playing on a bad back) has a bit more juice for the minutes when Rudy Gobert isn’t on the floor to patrol the paint. Keep things tight on that end, clean up the turnovers and find a bit more rhythm shooting-wise? There’s Utah’s formula.

No problem, right? Obviously it’s not that simple. The Warriors will find their own shooting touch and rip off big runs even if Utah isn’t gifting them points on the break; Kevin Durant was pretty pedestrian by his standards, missing several easy looks, and that’s never a great bet to continue. The Jazz have a ray of hope if they can keep the pace in their preferred range, but only if a few other things go their way as well.

Who Wins Game 2?

The Jazz should be sharper and more in rhythm for Game 2, but the same could be said for the team that ran them out of the building Tuesday night. The Warriors take a 2-0 lead back to Salt Lake City.

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About Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.