The starting five in this series hold the keys to success. For the Utah Jazz, their new All-Star could be the difference while the Clippers’ future Hall of Famer is on a mission.
It’s finally here. Playoff basketball has come to Salt Lake City.
For the first time since 2011, the Utah Jazz played in the postseason, and it’s been a long time coming after getting so close in 2015-16.
Despite the early injury to Rudy Gobert in Game 1, Joe Johnson’s game-winning heroics made sure Jazz fans weren’t disappointed with their team, winning 97-95 and taking an early 1-0 series lead.
It’s almost fitting the Jazz lost Gobert and will no doubt now battle injuries for as long as they remain in the playoffs. No team has been more adversely affected by injuries than the Jazz this season, but somehow they ended up with 51 wins.
That’s a testament to everyone in the franchise from the trainers, to the players, to the front office. It’s an incredible achievement, to be hit by so many injuries, and remain a genuine threat in the West.
“The regular season will be a success but definitely not the season. I think we are really an ambitious team. We’ve got a group of guys who want to win. Our goal this season was to make the playoffs, but we want more than that.”
This playoff run is so much more than your regular playoff push.
A good performance will lay the foundations for next season – a season that will surely be healthier and undoubtedly more prosperous than 2016-17.
Not only that, it will go a long way to securing the face of the franchise Gordon Hayward. Hayward is all but certain to opt-out of his current contract and somewhat test the free agency market. Without him, that undoubtedly prosperous 2017-18 season is in doubt.
The Los Angeles Clippers won the season series 3-1 but year after year, the “team X won the season series so will win the playoff series” claims that circulate social media are proven inaccurate.
There are a handful of matchups that will determine this series, and with health a growing issue for the Jazz, their Game 1 win has given them hope should Gobert not return anytime soon.
The stability he provides at the position is something that Jazz have lacked in recent years. His length makes him the perfect fit on a team renowned for it’s stifling and unpenetrable defense while his shooting makes him a threat from beyond the arc.
He might be the key to their success moving forward this season, and there will be few tests more difficult than what lies ahead in round one.
Jazz finished the season 28-12 when both George Hill and Gordon Hayward play (57 win pace) 33-16 when George Hill starts (55 win pace) pic.twitter.com/XnvDRo8AGc
Playing predominantly out of a pick and roll, CP3 took most of his shots from midrange in the regular season, connecting on 51 percent of his looks.
Offering up what most people consider the most inefficient shot in the game isn’t an option for Hill in this case, but neither is playing Paul too tight. Averaging 9.1 assists per game, Blake Griffin is the recipient of 36 percent of Paul’s passes, converting those passes into points 49 percent of the time.
There isn’t a scouting report in the world that has been able to contain the Clippers point guard, and it’s unlikely Quin Snyder and company buck the trend given Paul’s 25-point, 11-assist performance in Game 1.
The best Hill can do is limit his options and opportunities – make Paul force the odd pass and make contested shots.
Chances are he will find a way to score and get his teammates the ball but so long has he’s made to work harder the usual, Hill is doing his job.
The 2-guard is where it might get hairy for the Jazz. With Rodney Hood in and out of the lineup all season battling injuries, he’s only been able to start in 55 games.
Where Hill was able to shore up the point guard position, the continuity at shooting guard remains up in the air, as seen in Hood’s coming off the bench in Game 1.
Hood has been solid, and that’s all he needs to be in this series. As a 41 percent shooter, he’s not going to be taking much attention away from the scorers in his team. Asked to shoot plenty of threes (5.1 per game), Hood hits a dangerous 37 percent, so will be a noted threat on the Clippers’ whiteboard for catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Joe Ingles is, like Hood, nothing more than solid.
Ingles epitomizes Jazz basketball. He’s hardworking and consistent and has made a career out of his work ethic and three-point shot. While it wasn’t on point for Ingles’ start on Saturday night, he’s proven throughout the regular season to be a constant three-point shooting threat, hitting 44 percent of shots from beyond the arc.
Hood and Ingles are decent, but J.J. Redick could take the opportunity to hold a private clinic in moving off the ball and connecting on catch-and-shoot jump shots this series.
As was the case with Ingles, Redick wasn’t his usual self in Game 1, only shooting 1-for-3 from his favored three-point position.
That’s not to say the Jazz should sag off the Duke product come the second game of the series.
Redick has made a career of running around until he’s found a spot on the court to receive a pass and hoist one up. With 78 percent of Redick’s shots coming inside of two seconds from receiving the ball, Hood will have his hands full keeping up with the 10-year veteran.
37 percent of Redick’s 11.4 field goal attempts per game are catch-and-shoot from beyond the arc, and he hits 44.7 percent of those opportunities.
If Hood is to impact this series, it’s going to come in the form of defense. He’s keeping opposing shooters to 36 percent from three-point range, but his opposition for the next 4-7 games isn’t your average three-point-shooter.
Picking up his first All-Star appearance on the back of a 21.9 point, 5.4 rebound, 4.7 assist per game season, Hayward has continued his upward trend towards league-wide recognized stardom.
Still the underrated, baby-faced, white guy playing for the Jazz, Hayward manages to surprise the casual fan who hasn’t been exposed to enough Jazz basketball. He’s the pride and joy of basketball in Salt Lake City but his future in the city is uncertain, although Rudy Gobert is desperate to have Hayward stay, as he told Hoopshype.com:
“I’m going to remind him that I really want to win a championship and I think we can do it. If he stays, I think we’ll have more chances.”
His 47 percent field goal percentage on 15 shots per game is the best of his career since becoming a starter in the league. Another regular catch-and-shooter, Hayward spaces the floor with opposition defenders unable to sag of the 39 percent three-point shooting small forward.
When Gobert went down in Game 1, most would have expected Hayward to pick up the slack left by the absence of the Frenchman and score the ball more than usual. While he did try, hoisting up 19 shots, only connecting on seven, Hayward put his head down and went to work on the boards, collecting a team-high 10 rebounds.
Hayward will be the guy the Jazz find down the stretch of a game, and it will be up to Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute to stop him. Not known for having a prolific repertoire of scoring moves, Mbah a Moute has made a career out of playing suffocating defense.
This positional matchup couldn’t be more contrasting, but intriguing, with the Cameroon native scoring just 6.1 points per game.
The Clippers produce their best defensive rating with Mbah a Moute on the floor (102), with it likely Doc Rivers has his stopper in the game any time Hayward is checked in.
It’s not going to be the most attractive battle, but if Mbah a Moute can stop Hayward, the Clippers will have gone a long way to stopping the Jazz as a whole.
Boris Diaw may have started in Game 1 but it’s Derrick Favors who the Clippers will be dealing with for 32 minutes a game if the series opener is anything to go by.
Favors has only been able to take to the court 50 times this season with a lingering knee injury not allowing for any consistency in court time. Starting 39 games, Favors looked a shadow of his former self over the course of the regular season, lacking foot-speed and thrust as he battled to his 9.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
Game 1 was a special performance from the battling power forward. Barely able to jump, Favors grabbed six rebounds and scored 15 points. While the box-score numbers are attractive, it was the banging of his body when asked to move to the center spot that had Jazz fans in awe.
“Guys are used to playing against Gordon, Rudy, George. But I haven’t been 100 percent yet, so I think I can make a big impact and bring something different,”
Likewise, Hayward is excited to have another genuine big body in front of him on the court:
“To have him back out on the court, just his presence, is amazing for us. … Any time you can get from him is good.”
Facing Blake Griffin is hardly ideal after barely playing three of the last 17 regular season games, and only averaging 17 minutes in the process. A 100 percent healthy All-Star would struggle to contain Griffin let alone and barely mobile big-man lacking game fitness.
It’s a matchup that could prove the biggest problem for the Jazz. Everyone knows what’s going to happen, but it still seems unstoppable at times.
Griffin is going to pitch a tent on the left block and play out of there 65 percent of the time to put up his 21.6 points on 49 percent shooting. He’s going to drive left and take it to within 10 feet of the basket when he connects on 58 percent of the eight shots he takes from that spot on the court every game.
For three-quarters in Game 1 it looked as though the matchup that worried everyone in Utah would be the difference, with Griffin having scored 24 points going into the fourth. But as he has a habit of doing, Griffin went missing late, allowing the Jazz to scrape together the victory and 1-0 series lead.
Bruising, blocking, dunking – it’s a matchup of two of the best defending centers in the league.
The matchup lasted all of 17 seconds in Game 1 before Gobert left the court with a knee injury. It’s an injury that could derail the Jazz and their quest to reach the second round but Shams Charania of The Vertical reported that there is no structural damage, giving Gobert a chance at being available for Game 2.
Gobert, if not the Defensive Player of the Year, is going to run a very close second when the votes are finally counted. His ability to deflect shots and anchor a team defense has been a large part of the Jazz and their leap from ninth in the West in 2015-16 to 5th in 2016-17.
His 14 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game are impressive figures even before you mention his 63 percent field goal percentage, but it’s the advanced stats that paint the Frenchman’s picture.
Gobert leads the league in defensive win shares with 6.0 and is second in the overall win shares behind James Harden with 14.3.
For a guy who isn’t someone the Jazz seek out to create a shot to score a bucket when they need one, to be in the top-10 of offensive win shares in astounding.
97 percent of Gobert’s shots are inside 10 feet. 68 percent are either layups or dunks. Everybody knows what he’s going to do, but nobody can stop it.
DeAndre Jordan faces the so far unachievable task of stopping Gobert this series and knows what’s ahead, telling ESPN:
“Man, he definitely is a big part of their team in getting those guys open, protecting the basket and rebounding the basketball. He’s definitely gotten a lot, lot better. It’s always fun to play against a big like that.”
Like his opposing center, Jordan isn’t going to light the world on fire with silky smooth postups and turnaround fade away jump shots. 61 percent of Jordan’s 12.7 points per game comes from layups and dunks, but it’s his ability to find scoring opportunities off the ball that Gobert will need to control.
Almost 30 percent of Jordan’s shots are alley oops or tip-ins. Jordan went about his business in Game 1, scoring 10 points and pulling down 15 boards.