Key #1 – Slow the Pace, Eliminate Fast Break Points
In terms of pace and style of play, you could say that the Jazz and Warriors are complete opposites. Golden State wants to push the tempo to essentially run their opponent off the court. They’re the kings of getting shots in transition and I’m not just talking easy layups, but rather pulling up and hitting threes on the run.
Golden State feeds off of the momentum they build by getting easy looks in transition and they often put their glitz and glamour shenanigans in full display.
The Jazz meanwhile are the exact opposite. They play a much slower and more methodical style and have more of a reserved, blue collar approach to the game. In terms of pace, the Warriors finished the regular season as the fourth fastest team in the league at 102.2 possessions per game, whereas the Jazz came in dead last at 93.6 If that doesn’t scream polar opposite, I’m not sure what will.
But that emphasis that Utah has on slogging down the games and forcing teams to play at their pace is exactly what has made them formidable this year and is precisely what they’ll need to do throw Golden State out of their rhythm. In my preview piece for the Jazz-Clippers series, I mentioned that although the Clips are known for being Lob City, their relatively low pace (17th in the league) made them able to compete well in grind-out games as well.
That fact was on obvious display in this latest series against the Jazz as of course the series went to Game 7 despite some relatively low-scoring affairs.
The Warriors, on the other hand, while they have the talent to arise victorious regardless of the style of play they’re up against, are much less accustomed to slowing it down and playing that way. By eliminating their quick pace and halting their momentum, the Jazz will give themselves a great opportunity to stay in the game.
A good, though not perfect, measure of controlling Golden State’s pace will be Utah’s ability to limit their fast break points. During the regular season, the Warriors were far and above the best in the league in that area at 22.6 such points per game. However, in Utah’s lone win of the season over Golden State, the Jazz held them to just 12 points in transition. Compare that to the 24 fast break points that the Warriors logged in the blowout win and the difference is pretty clear.
The Warriors are so good at scoring anyway, even in a well defended half court set, that the Jazz simply cannot afford to give them additional easy baskets in transition, be it off of turnovers or simply due to failing to get back on defense. Not only do the extra easy looks add up quickly, but the Warriors are a team that builds momentum like a snowball growing bigger and bigger as it plummets down a hill.
Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile. A two-point lead can turn into a 12-point lead in the blink of an eye if they’re not kept in check on the fast break.
Therefore, if the Jazz hope to give themselves a chance to win the series, it will be vital that they take Golden State out of their rhythm, force them to play at Utah’s pace throughout and eliminate as many fast break opportunities as possible.