It may not mean much, but for what it’s worth the Utah Jazz were able to play the Golden State Warriors closer than any of their other Western Conference playoff opponents.
Three series, four straight sweeps.
We all knew that the Golden State Warriors had an incredible squad, but if someone had told me at the start of the postseason that they would go 12-0 en route to the NBA Finals, I still would have balked. Nevertheless, that ended up being the reality as three teams – the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs – have all been wiped away in four games apiece.
There’s obviously little solace to be found in being picked apart and dominated in the fashion that each of those teams have, but when going up against an unbelievably stacked Warriors team, sometimes you have to look for any moral victory you can find. In the case of the Utah Jazz, they can find one such moral victory in noting that they held Golden State to the smallest average margin of victory of any of their Western Conference playoff foes.
In the first round against Portland, Golden State won by 12 (121-109), 29 (110-81), 6 (119-113) and 25 (128-103) for an average margin of victory of 18 points per game. The Spurs, meanwhile, who suffered the four-game elimination just last night, lost by 2 (113-111), 36 (136-100), 12 (120-108) and 14 (129-115), giving the Warriors an average margin of victory of 16 points per game.
Again, while it’s little solace, the Jazz can at least take comfort in knowing that despite the fact that they were likewise easily swept aside by the Warriors, they did come the closest overall of any of Golden State’s opponents so far. The Warriors defeated the Jazz by 12 (106-94), 11 (115-104), 11 (102-91) and 26 (121-95) giving them an average margin of victory of “only” 15 points.
Don’t misunderstand me here. In no way am I saying that the Jazz therefore provided a realistic challenge to the Warriors (because unfortunately they didn’t) but it’s an interesting tidbit of information and at least somewhat reassuring to see that they were just slightly less manhandled than the Warriors’ other Western Conference foes.
Of course the disappointing undertone to all three series has been the injuries. The Blazers had been red hot heading into the final weeks of the regular season when they lost Jusuf Nurkic to injury who was then only able to suit up for 16.7 minutes in one postseason game and logged just two points for his Portland team.
Utah was without George Hill for all but the first game of the series in which he was largely ineffective. Meanwhile, the Spurs have by far the largest gripe as they were in fact in the driver’s seat for upsetting the Warriors in Game 1 when Kawhi Leonard suffered an unfortunate re-injury of his left ankle due to a questionable closeout from Zaza Pachulia.
San Antonio was up by 21 when the injury took place, but ended up losing the game by two and never recovered in the series. They lost the next game by an unfathomable 36 points which is the major reason why Utah was able to squeak by in the margin of victory battle.
Not to mention, the Spurs were already without the services of legendary point guard Tony Parker, so even though the Jazz narrowly topped the Spurs in terms of margin of victory, San Antonio most certainly has the most plausible “what-if” situation concerning their injury woes.
Had the Blazers and Jazz been healthy, they likely still would not have been able to beat the Warriors four times, but they would have at least been able to put their 8-0 start in jeopardy. The Spurs, however, may have been able to actually give Golden State a run for their money and I’m certain that if Leonard hadn’t gone down, while the Warriors very well could have still won the series, they wouldn’t be looking at a 12-0 mark heading into the Finals.
Nevertheless, unfortunate though it may be, injuries are a part of the game and the Warriors have the good fortune of arriving to the Finals without any major injuries (sorry Zaza, I’m not counting you as a major player despite the “key role” you played in eliminating the Spurs) after easily dismantling their first three opponents.
With exception to perhaps the Spurs if they had been healthy, it’s quite clear that the rest of the Western Conference, including the Utah Jazz, has a long ways to go before they are able to match wits with Golden State.
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Nevertheless, despite the fact that the sweep was a disappointing way to end the year, there’s no denying that the Jazz had a phenomenal season that has them headed in the right direction. And while it means practically nothing in the long run, at least they came away with somewhat of a moral victory for having played the Warriors closer than any of their other Western Conference opponents.