Game 1 Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Utah Jazz
While the Warriors will be favored in the Western Conference semifinals, don’t expect the Jazz to roll over.
After standing as the lone upset seed in the entire playoff picture, the Utah Jazz have put the NBA community on full notice.
However, their sweet moment of sending home the Los Angeles Clippers after a seven-game series will be short lived as they get set to face the reigning Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors, who have had a week’s worth of rest.
Golden State dismantled the Portland Trail Blazers in their opening round series, winning four games to none. The Warriors do their most damage by moving the ball consistently around the perimeter and then finding the open shooter. After missing two games in the first round series with a calf strain, Kevin Durant will look to return to form in a Jazz matchup that will presumably be a bit more difficult than the Trail Blazers were.
Along with Durant, key reserves Matt Barnes and Shaun Livingston are using the extra time in between these playoff matchups to regain their health in hopes of making an impact on the court.
Utah presents a legitimate problem for the Warriors with their deep bench and ability to control the front court with Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert. In Game 7, the Jazz had seven players score in double-figures, even with Gobert suffering early foul trouble and scoring just one point. If Gobert can keep himself out of foul trouble against Golden State, he has the opportunity to dominate inside the paint when the Warriors look to switch into their small-ball lineups.
These two teams couldn’t represent a more stark contrast of play style, and whichever team controls the tempo for the majority of the game will have the best chance to notch a victory on that particular night. The Warriors were the NBA’s fourth fastest paced team this season, with the Jazz registering dead last in that category. Utah will look to draw Golden State into a half court rock fight from the get-go, running their offense through Gobert and letting star player Gordon Hayward operate from the wing. Hayward averaged 27.2 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting over 45 percent from three-point range in the six games he wasn’t food poisoned in round one.
Despite the legitimate 1-2 punch Utah has in Hayward and Gobert, plus their productive role players, there’s a reason the Warriors have won the last two Western Conference crowns. Between Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest of the team, Golden State has shown their ability to impose their will on opponents all season with unprecedented lopsided scoring runs that turn a close contest into a blowout in a matter of minutes. Utah has seen that first hand. In the first matchup between these two clubs back on Dec. 8 in Utah, the Warriors unleashed a 29-1 scoring run in the first quarter.
Though easier said than done, limiting the Warriors scoring runs to a minimum will be key for the Jazz to keep their series with Golden State closer than Portland did.
Who wins Game 1?
After taking two out of their three regular season matchups against Utah, Golden State is poised to take a 1-0 series lead with fresh legs from a week’s rest. However, even after playing a long hard-fought series against the Clippers, the Jazz won’t just roll over. Expect a tight game for the majority of the contest with Gobert being a headache for the Warriors’ frontcourt.
Despite the mismatches though, the Warriors will provide Oracle Arena with a Game 1 victory.
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