By Ben Stein ’18
The Utah Jazz edged the Clippers 4-3 in the first round of the 2017 NBA playoffs, and now they face the Golden State Warriors in the Conference Semifinals. Golden State is the most elite team in the NBA at 67-15 in the regular season; however, Utah poses an interesting threat. They have a young core of players, with some good veterans.
First, we can not talk Utah without bringing up, arguably, the greatest Jazz player since John Stockton, Gordon Hayward. Hayward is averaging 22.3 ppg with 6.9 rpg. He was an all-star this year, a top notch defender, and at 27 years old he is only getting better. Rudy Gobert, the other young stud, has been averaging 9.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in the playoffs.
Outside of those two, Joe Ingles has really stepped up big. The 29-year-old Aussie small forward has had the second best three point shooting percentage in the regular season next to arguably one of the best three point shooters of all time in Steph Curry. In the playoffs, of course, he is not doing as well, but he is still shooting 33 percent.
The other Joe, Joe Johnson, has been performing well. In the last series against the Clippers he hit a game winner in game one and outplayed his old Nets teammate, Paul Pierce. The 16 year vet is scoring 15.1 ppg in the playoffs and looking much like his old self, percentage wise, shooting roughly 48 percent.
Contrary to popular belief, if Rudy Gobert continues blocking shots the way he has with 2.64 bpg, and Utah continues to keep teams to less than 97 ppg, they will have a shot to win this series. The biggest threat, as many know, is Golden State’s three point shooting. The question lies with how Gordon Hayward and Joe Ingles will match Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. The answer to that question is, they won’t, but they can slow them down.
The key to success for Utah is good perimeter defense, eliminating second chance points for GS, and making good open shots. If they do that I believe this series will not go 4-0, 4-1, or 4-2, this will go 7, and hey……. they are already 1-0 in Game 7’s.