Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (30) goes up and makes a basket past Utah Jazz’s Derrick Favors (15) during the first quarter of Game 1 of their NBA second-round playoff series at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif. on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Here are five observations from the Warriors’ 104-96 Game 1 win over the Jazz on Tuesday night…
1. Draymond-led separation
There were three important stretches of separation on Tuesday night. Draymond Green was involved in all three. The first came at the start of the game — an emphatic defensive statement to open the series. The Warriors held the Jazz scoreless for the first 4 minutes and 12 seconds, nudging out to a 9-0 lead (they’d never trail). Utah missed five shots and had three turnovers before they scored a point. The Warriors operate at a different defensive speed than the Clippers. That change seemed to throttle the Jazz early. Green was at the center of that, being his typical aggressive, obnoxious self — just destroying opposing offenses.
Here he is at the 9:40 mark rocking Rudy Gobert’s senses. On this possession, the Jazz essentially get what they want: Utah bleeds it down to five seconds, forces a double-team and then gets a lob pass over the top to Gobert six feet from the hoop. Zaza Pachulia, Gobert’s defender, is lagging behind. So if Gobert acts quickly, it’s a 2-on-1 with either a shot near the rim or a pass to an open Joe Johnson in the corner. But this is only second #100 of what will be thousands in the series. Gobert isn’t yet used to Green’s constant defensive terrorism. He turns, unaware of the linebacker about to jump up his back and bumbles it away as Green stones him by surprise. A loose ball scramble ensues. Green knocks it off Gobert’s leg as the shot clock sounds and he falls to the floor. Then, to punctuate the ‘welcome to this series’ moment, Green turns and taunts the fallen Gobert.
-The next big separation point came at the start of the second quarter. The Warriors led 27-21 when Kevin Durant and Steph Curry took their typical seat together. In this pocket, with two MVPs resting, Draymond Green’s importance rises. Here’s all he did over the next few minutes:
-Blocked a Derrick Favors layup on the first possession of the second quarter
-Ripped down a rebound at the 10:30 mark and, without a dribble, sent a touchdown assist to David West within four seconds for a dunk
-Nailed a wing 3 at the 9:45 mark
-Rumbled down the lane for a lefty layup at the 9:22 mark
After the Green layup, Quin Snyder called timeout. The Warriors had outscored the Jazz 12-4 in 2:38 of game time, spiking the lead from six to 14 without Durant or Curry. In that spurt, Green was directly responsible for seven Warriors points, while wiping away two from the Jazz.
Here’s the block to start the quarter. Green flies around the whole possession — starting on Joe Johnson, switching onto Derrick Favors, roaming a bit free safety style, zipping out to Joe Ingles in the corner to shut off a 3, then getting back in time to swallow up a Favors layup and cap the defensive stand by gathering the loose ball. Green now has 19 blocks in five playoff games.
Included in another loaded Draymond Green stat-line: eight rebounds (all defensive) and six assists. Here’s the combo from that second quarter spurt, where he shows off his high-level vision. All in one motion, Green rises for a rebound, lands and flings a full court pass perfectly to David West, who smartly leaks out after contesting the George Hill 3.
-Third separation point of the game: The Jazz were within 11 to start the fourth quarter — never feeling like a true threat to win but, at that point, also not yet completely out of it. Then the same no Curry, no Durant, Green-led vet lineup — with Klay Thompson, Ian Clark, Andre Iguodala and David West — stuck a 10-0 run in the first 3:30 of the fourth quarter to put a cap on the Game 1 win. In that stretch, Green scored six of the 10 points, hitting an and-1 15-footer and an open 3. He finished as a plus-19 in his 34 minutes.
2. A West kind of series
The Blazers were a matchup suited for JaVale McGee. Portland’s lack of size, lack of physicality and lack of focus — particularly on the interior — allowed McGee to roam free and crush lobs with little resistance or adjustment. Utah is too smart, too big and too prepared to allow too much of that. McGee wasn’t bad on Tuesday, but he was neutralized. He played 10 minutes, squirted free for one lob — which was defended pretty well by Boris Diaw, but McGee had an excellent finish — had one block, zero rebounds and was a minus-1.
McGee will still get those mid first/third quarter minutes, but it’s become pretty clear pretty early that this is a series more suited for David West, the Warriors’ other backup center. West got a playoff-high 18 minutes on Tuesday, anchoring that vet lineup to start the second and fourth quarters. He played so well that Mike Brown left him out for a pair of nine-minute stretches (about three minutes longer than usual). The Warriors outscored the Jazz by 14 points with West on the floor. He had four rebounds, two blocks, a steal and four points, meeting Utah’s brute with his own brute. But West’s biggest contribution was as a passer. He shredded the Jazz defense with seven assists in 18 minutes. Early this season, after discovering his passing ability in training camp, Steve Kerr made West a regular hub of much of the second-unit offense. Just get it to him in the high post and flood the floor with a bunch of back-screens and quick cuts. Here are four of West’s seven assists on Monday — all on quick back cuts and quick, accurate passes.
Here’s Quin Snyder postgame talking about the Warriors’ smarts, which seemed at least partially like a nod to West: “One of the things about Golden State is just how quick they think. Just mentally, they’re able to get, not just from possession to possession, but within a possession. During those (early 2nd/4th quarter runs), I felt like that was on display. They changed ends quickly. They back cut. I’ll just have to look at the film, but I thought they just were smarter, yes, but just more urgent and quicker-thinking, more reactive.”
3. Zaza’s usefulness
Zaza Pachulia is in one of the more unique spots in NBA history. Every night, he trots out as the fifth starter in a lineup that features four All-Stars (and future Hall of Famers), all in their prime. His skill set, so divergent from the four around him, can stand out in a bad way. But if used properly, that can be leveraged in different ways.
In the first round, Portland (particularly Noah Vonleh) started the series by sagging wayyyyyyyy off Pachulia, basically acting like he didn’t exist in the halfcourt. So the Warriors used Pachulia as a screener and he freed up Steph Curry (and others) for some wide open looks when Portland failed to help.
You don’t expect the Jazz to play that unaware of defense against the Warriors. Regardless of what you think of Pachulia, you can’t let Curry step into that open of a look. But in Game 1 against the Jazz, the Warriors still found ways to leverage him. Pachulia finished with 10 points, which included two runout transition scores where he basically just beat Rudy Gobert (his man) down the floor and the other Jazz players, afraid to leave the other All-Stars, just allowed him to waltz right down the middle for a catch and easy finish.
4. Three-point see-saw: Green up, Iguodala down
Bonus for the Warriors’ offense: Draymond Green is 13-of-25 from 3 in the playoffs. If he stays hot from deep over the next month (or just hits somewhere around 40 percent consistently), defenses will be without a solution because this season — when Green plummeted from 39 to 31 percent from 3 — leaving him open was the solution. But not right now.
Problem for the Warriors’ offense: Andre Iguodala is now 0-of-15 from 3 in the playoffs. He missed all nine of his 3s against the Blazers and bricked all six of his 3s on Tuesday night. Made even worse: Only one of the 15 shots have had a defender within four feet. He’s missing wide open looks and looking uncomfortable while doing it, a huge change from the last few months of the season, when he shot above 40 percent from deep.
5. Turnover problems
This season, in their 15 losses, the Warriors turned it over 16.3 times per game. To beat them, you typically have to make them sloppy, which erases a batch of possessions from one of the most efficient offenses in NBA history. In Game 1, a problem emerged for the Jazz: They’re a sturdy defense, but they’re not a disruptive one. This season, Utah only forced 11.5 turnovers per game, tied for the fewest in the NBA. The Warriors only turned it over seven times in Game 1 (tying a franchise record for fewest in a playoff game).
Stat of the night: Joe Johnson and Gordon Hayward finished a combined 8-of-24 shooting for only 23 points thanks, in part, to some solid individual defense, like this early third quarter stand by Kevin Durant who slides and turns away Johnson’s every move, forcing him to take a late-clock contested 3.