The Jazz Are Built to Beat the Warriors, but Can They?

Kevin DingNBA Senior WriterMay 2, 2017

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 10: Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz dunks against the Golden State Warriors on April 10, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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If you're a morning person, you aren't going to be functioning as well at midnight.

In a similar vein, if you're the Golden State Warriors and are used to playing at a pace faster than all but three teams, you aren't likely to be functioning as well in your Nikes, Under Armours and Antas when mired in the molasses in which the Jazz play. 

Utah played at the slowest pace in the entire league this season—Joe Ingles seems to come with his own lullaby soundtrack in everything he does—and that will be a big adjustment for Golden State.

You can argue that it ultimately doesn't matter, as no one should be predicting the Warriors to lose a series to anyone. However, the chance of victory for the Jazz in this second round or potentially the Spurs or Rockets in the next against Golden State is, like it or not, somewhere north of zero. And it says here that the sleep-inducing Jazz style offers more of a challenge to the Warriors than trying to beat them at their own game.

The Portland Trail Blazers just tried that, by the way, and got swept by a margin of 18 points per game, despite Kevin Durant missing most of the series. Let that serve as caution to all the Houston Rockets fans banking on their team getting hot and outshooting Golden State in the Western Conference Finals. (The Spurs played at the fourth-slowest pace in the league, so that Houston-San Antonio series will also be a study in contrasts.)

This season, Golden State averaged 99.8 possessions per game; in the three games against the Jazz, the Warriors averaged 95.4 possessions per game, according to Basketball Reference. While Golden State won two of those three contests, the Jazz's effect on the Warriors' offense offers Utah hope. Steph Curry and Co. were 32-2 when they averaged 100.3-plus possessions in a game, but when they played at a pace of 100.2 or less, they went 35-13. That isn't the stuff of lottery teams, but it appears clear that the slower the Warriors play, the more beatable they are.

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 20: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors handles the ball against the Utah Jazz on December 20, 2016 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or
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Of course, the Jazz will have to deal with the Warriors trying to speed up the game and pretty surely will have trouble putting points on the board against Golden State. (Utah posted an offensive rating of 94.0 vs. the Warriors as opposed to 107.4 for the entire season, according to NBA.com.) But put on the egghead glasses for just a moment to read the mathematical truth that fewer possessions are preferable when your team isn't as good as the other team.

That is why Utah would be wise to impose its style as much as possible and hope the Warriors are a little off—a possibility that exists anyway because Utah's players are a lot better than people realize. No, there is not a LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard on the roster, but the depth is such that it's fair to say this series could be the greatest challenge the Warriors face on their way to the title.

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 23:  Rodney Hood #5 of the Utah Jazz handles the ball against the Golden State Warriors on December 13, 2015 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or us
Noah Graham/Getty Images

The Jazz finished fifth in the West, don't have much playoff experience from Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert and needed seven games to hold off a Los Angeles Clippers team that lost Blake Griffin to injury in Game 3. Not exactly imposing.

Yet injuries have kept Utah from its potential—until now. Jazz coach Quin Snyder said he had "the full team" for only 13 games this season, which has provided a lot of these players the opportunity to build confidence to play key roles in the playoffs.

Even though the Jazz don't seem healthy, because Hayward had food poisoning and Gobert suffered a bone bruise in his knee and a mild ankle sprain in the first round, they actually are carrying more firepower than they had all season.

Everyone is available, and the first round showed that if Hayward doesn't do it, Joe Johnson might—or if Gobert doesn't do it, Derrick Favors is good, too. The Warriors have three or four elite players, but Jazz role players such as Rodney Hood, Ingles, Johnson and Favors are more likely to swing a game than anyone off Golden State's bench besides Andre Iguodala.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Though slow, Utah has enough capable three-point shooters—Hood (37.3 percent in the regular season), Hayward (39.8), George Hill (40.3), Johnson (41.1) and Ingles (44.1)—that a few hot performances could offset Golden State's sharp shooting.

Defensively, the Jazz are like the Warriors in their ability to switch with similarly sized defenders protecting the perimeter, which is why the Clippers gave up trying to free J.J. Redick in the first round. Despite their inexperience, Hood and Ingles are excellent at executing defensive scouting reports.

The Jazz are committed to playing solid, position-based defense to contest shots rather than gambling for steals or deflections, while leaning on Gobert to protect the paint.

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Clippers coach Doc Rivers resorted to playing Chris Paul more than he wanted to (leading to Paul's fatigue in Game 7) because without him pushing the ball up, the Clippers kept losing their tempo, Rivers said.

There's a danger for the Warriors, too, in that they have a tendency to waste possessions or rush plays when they are not playing at peak efficiency, which could play right into Utah's hands.

That's what the Jazz's style can do to opponents.

The operative word here is "can."

Yes, the Jazz can beat the Warriors. They really can, with Snyder calling perfect plays to prey on Stephen Curry's defense, Gobert's improved aggression against smaller defenders and the college-style home-court advantage playing a part in the series the way Oklahoma City's did last year.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

The Jazz can…even if they probably won't, because they might be too happy to be there in the second round and the Warriors are just ridiculously good and driven to win it all.

Just know that Utah is the best underdog you're going to find: a team with more talent than you think, a demoralizing ability to execute late in the shot clock and late in games…and a style that is going to keep the Warriors from being anywhere close to their best.

 

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.