On the night after the Utah Jazz defeated the L.A. Clippers to advance to the second round, I emailed the manager of SLC Dunk, AllThatAmar about doing a Q&A to preview their second meeting with the Golden State Warriors.
He pretty much summed up the series in our initial email exchange, so I figured I’d just skip the extended intro and give you all that.
Nate: Was just wondering if you'd want to do a Q&A in advance of the second round series between the Warriors and Jazz. Let me know.
Amar: Yeah, let’s do it! I'll send you some questions a bit later on - I'm still in the middle of being horrified by my research of GSW. This is David vs Goliath if Goliath has a MOAB.
Nate: Yeah - I kinda assumed it was Jazz a few days ago and I just don't see how they beat the Warriors. And I swear that's not just me being an arrogant Warriors fan! The facts paint a bleak picture! :)
Amar: It's only bleak if you're a jazz fan!
Nate: OK, OK ... So let's begin with some common ground: after facing the Clippers in a dramatic seven game series, how much do you hate them on a scale of 1 (you're a saint who forgives all basketball sins) to 10 (you'll thoroughly enjoy their dismantling and rebuild)?
Amar: I’d have to say 7 after beating them, before the series it was a 9, I think. LAC has been so pathetic and useless for decades that they weren’t anything to even spare a thought over; however, when they adopted the self-created “Lob City” moniker they went from irrelevant to public enemy. They collected a group of players that talk to the refs absolutely all game long and their reputation for flopping (while also flexing after dunks) was infuriating. Furthermore, Utah just couldn’t beat them, losing 18 of the last 20 regular season games these two squads faced. I debunked that on the site, but it’s still a piece of trivia the talking heads point out.
Having to face them over and over in the playoffs would be so frustrating. So hats off to you guys.
Nate: Well, the last time the Warriors and Jazz met in the playoffs, it was 2007 during the Warriors’ We Believe run. Clearly, Warriors fans find that series memorable due to Baron Davis’ monstrous dunk, possibly to the point of not even caring about the fact that the Warriors lost a series nobody really expected them to be in. That is still the stuff of legend in DubNation and the Warriors have invited 10 players from that era back to Oracle for Game 1 of this series.
But that season just so happened to also be the last time the Jazz made the Western Conference Finals. So as a Jazz fan, what stands out most to you about that 2007 series?
Amar: That dunk was awesome, but it wasn’t the only reason to revisit that series. I remember Andrei Kirilenko shutting down Stephen Jackson. I remember it was Deron Williams’ coming out party against Baron Davis. I also remember Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer getting whatever they wanted inside and out. Jazz fans have bittersweet memories of former Warriors player Derek Fisher (traded in the off-season) returning from his daughter's eye surgery in New York to make it to the game in the fourth quarter to hit a big corner three.
But that dunk was awesome, even if the NBA rulebooks suggest that clearing a guy out with your forearm to their head is an offensive foul : )
Nate: ANYWAY, I enjoyed Adrian Wojnarowski’s article at The Vertical about how the Jazz have built a sustainable team with a bright future. But as a Jazz fan, what stands out to you as the most significant part of that team-building process? What do you think is the key to them returning to a Western Conference Finals series?
Amar: The biggest part for a small market team in a place with cold winters has to be the ability to scout and draft well. If you have draft picks and fumble them every year you’re not going to be able to build a young group that can grow together and support one another. A quick rebuild where a star free agent signs wasn’t a possibility for a team in Utah. So the long slog through the draft and many losing seasons was the only way up. The next step was to stick to the plan and develop these guys. Looking down the list, I don't think many experts expected Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood, and company to be this compatible. Adding undrafted guys like Joe Ingles was also part of the scouting process. The third asset seems to have been patience. I don't think a big market team where there's a lot of competition for fan attention (and money) can afford to slowly build up. Utah could.
Of course, the Key to returning to the West finals is to win enough games to be in that 2/7, 3/6 bracket. Avoiding Golden State is the only way to make the West Finals. And everyone knows it.
Nate: I also enjoyed My_Lo’s preview of the series on your site with the Superman vs. Bizarro/Fire & Ice analogy. One thing that caught my eye was the point that the Jazz have more wing options than most teams in the West. We all just saw Joe Ingles & SEVEN TIME ALL-STAR Joe Johnson come up big against the Clippers. But which wing do you expect to come up big in this series given that the Warriors are not exactly short of options at the wing spot?
Amar: Gordon Hayward and Joe Johnson are the primary focuses for the defense. Joe Ingles is notable as well. Dante Exum would thrive in a faster paced game. However, I think the wildcard at wing is going to be Rodney Hood. Not because he's got some all-around game or superstar potential. I expect big things from Hood because he's so far down the totem pole of guys GSW is game planning for, and more importantly, he's the only guy on the roster (not named Joe Johnson) who can catch fire. Hood is one of the streakiest shooters in Jazz franchise history. He can go for weeks without a good game and ignite for a big score out of nowhere. He's due for a big game.
Nate: Speaking of wing play, Sean Deveney of Sporting News noted that Hayward has not played well against the Warriors in recent years. Do you see a way the Jazz could win games in which he does not play well?
Amar: Historically Hayward wasn't performing well against the Los Angeles Clippers either; however this Hayward - this beef-ward - is a little different. Against Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and being the first option against LA, he scored 40, 31, 27, 26, 20, 19, and 3 points (food poisoning game where he left in the second quarter) in the seven game series. If he's allowed to get to the line (not always a given against a Golden State team that "never fouls") he could show up once again. But it's possible for the team to win when he's not playing well. If Hood is shooting well, and the rest of the Jazz guys are around their customary 40%, it's possible for there to be points on the board. But scoring isn't the way to beat Golden State. You have to play defense.
If Gordon is having a bad game and the team isn't defending there's no way to beat the Warriors. If the team is shooting threes and defending well, there's a chance. Not a big chance. But a chance.
Nate: Everyone is pointing to pace as a key factor in this series, which makes perfect sense. But you're not gonna beat the Warriors simply by slowing the game down -- over the last few years of the Warriors’ ascent to perennial contender, the key to beating them has been offensive rebounding (or having LeBron James turn in an epic performance). While the Jazz are a significantly better defensive rebounding team than the Warriors (and really, who isn't?), they're only an average offensive rebounding team by percentage -- outside of Gobert, they don't really have a significant offensive rebounder. Do you see a way that the Jazz can stay competitive in this series without a significant offensive rebounding differential?
Amar: Well, guys, the Jazz haven't played a lot of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert together this season because of injuries. If the Jazz elect to go big - and Favors and Gobert have played a lot together over the previous three seasons - there will be plenty of offensive rebounding to go along with the Jazz open shot-finding offense. Of course, if KD is playing more and more of the four in this series that's not going to happen.
Can the Jazz win games against the Warriors without crashing the glass? Probably not. It's going to take a tremendous efficiency on offense to beat Golden State even once. Can they be competitive without offensive rebounds? I hope so, it is going to depend on the match-ups more than the pace of play. If Utah can't play single coverage the system is already defeated. Looking at your roster it appears as though Utah will not be able to play single coverage. That's a problem regardless of rebounds.
Nate: Prediction time: how many games will this series go and who will win?
Amar: Prediction? Warriors in 5. Gentleman's sweep.