Key #2 – Dominate the Middle
In order to bring Kevin Durant into the Golden State fold this offseason, the Warriors were forced to part with some of their depth that had made them so formidable over the past two years, giving up formidable bigs in the likes of Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli.
Of course even at the time that was a no-brainer sacrifice and in hindsight it was even better as not only did Bogut and Ezeli post nearly meaningless seasons this year, but Golden State’s newcomers – JaVale McGee and David West – have filled in admirably.
Still the sentiment that existed then still holds true. With Zaza Pachulia as the starting center and less than daunting bigs waiting in reserve, the Golden State Warriors’ weakest position is at the center spot and in the post. Of course the ever versatile Draymond Green helps to make up for some of that, but still there’s no denying that it’s the one area where the almighty Warriors have a bit of an Achilles heel.
Thus the Jazz have to identify it and expose it to the best of their ability. The length of Rudy Gobert and (hopefully) Derrick Favors could very well wreak havoc on the Warriors on both ends of the floor.
Of course offensively it would be nice for the Jazz to get some easy points of their own supposing that the Warriors’ lack of size could cause them to struggle to defend Utah’s bigs. If that’s something Utah can do consistently, it would force the Warriors to go away from their “death lineup” which features Green at the center and thus would likely prevent them from getting into the mode and style where they are most comfortable.
That in turn would be huge to slowing the Warriors as it would likely prevent them from getting out and running how they like to, as I mentioned in the first key. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Despite the perception that the Warriors are weak in the middle (though it is true to an extent) they also happened to lead the league in blocks during the regular season with 6.8per game.
They upped that to an unprecedented amount by rejecting Portland in the first round of the playoffs an average of 10.3 times per game! Yes, you read that right. Therefore, while taking advantage of Golden State in the post is a nice idea that the Jazz certainly have to seek to exploit, it isn’t necessarily a foolproof one by any means.
But perhaps where the Jazz have to be even more dominant is in the paint on the defensive end of the floor. Despite not boasting the greatest size, the Warriors finished the regular season at seventh in the league in points in the paint with 46.6 per game, eclipsing Utah’s mark of 18th in the league with 42.8. Of course some of this has to do with Golden State’s high number of fast break points and their lightning fast pace, but it’s still a solid number regardless.
Therefore, it will be up to Rudy Gobert to truly prove his legitimacy as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate by making life miserable for the Warriors down low. He certainly did a good job of that in Utah’s lone win over the Warriors as he logged a pair of blocks and altered countless additional shots.
It will be hard to consistently stop Golden State in the paint like that, particularly if Favors indeed doesn’t play, but the Jazz absolutely must do everything they can to control the middle. Although the Warriors are often thought of as a bigger threat on the perimeter (which is largely true), if Utah can make them ineffective in the paint and thus force them into desperation shots from deep (which hopefully won’t fall) then the Jazz could hamper Golden State’s offense as a whole.
Utah is at its best when its perimeter defenders can stay close to their guys while the rim protector(s) keep the lane on lockdown. For the Jazz to have any hope in this series, that’s the kind of commanding defensive scheme they’ll have to manufacture.