The series may have lasted seven games, but the Utah Jazz defeated the Los Angels Clippers — a team that had made it out of the first round in three of their last five playoff appearances — for their first postseason series win since 2010. After finishing the regular season with an NBA-best 96.8 points per game allowed to opponents, Utah held Los Angeles to less than 100 points in six of the seven games they squared off against each other. Utah’s defense is anchored by center Rudy Gobert, one of the top contenders for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award, finishing the year with the third-ranked defensive rating and third-ranked Defensive Box Plus-Minus among all NBA players.
But with all of that being said: do the Utah Jazz really have any chance of defeating the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Semifinals?
After Damian Lillard, the star point guard of the Portland Trailblazers, publicly stated that his team could beat the Warriors in the opening round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs in six or seven games, not only did the Warriors end up sweeping the Trailblazers, but they did so in ruthless fashion; three of the four games were totally lopsided victories by Golden State.
Golden State’s average margin of victory in each game was 18 points. They averaged 119.5 points scored per game during the series. In Game 4, which turned out to be the last game of the series, the Warriors scored 45 points in the first quarter. That was the most points ever scored in a first quarter of a playof game in NBA history. Stephen Curry, who very quietly turned into an MVP candidate over the second half of the season, averaged 29.8 points (shooting over 42% from three-point range), 6.5 assists, and 5.3 rebounds per game during the series.
And the Warriors managed to pull off those numbers without the services of superstar forward Kevin Durant (still recovering from his knee injury) and head coach Steve Kerr (suffering from complications from his offseason back surgeries) for much of the series.
For now, Golden State assistant coach Mike Brown is leading the way with an experienced coaching staff and a veteran team that’s no stranger to deep postseason runs. But Durant continues to look more and more like himself, and the Warriors hope to have the services of injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs, after having more than a week off since defeating Portland.
The Warriors and Jazz played each other three times this past season. While Golden State won two of the three games, losing their most recent match-up on April 10th by a 105–99 score, the Warriors have outscored the Jazz by more than 10 points per game in their three meetings. Utah did win three road games in their opening-round win over Los Angeles, and still sport one of the loudest and most boisterous home stadiums in the Vivint Smart Home Arena. But winning games at the Staples Center doesn’t even approach the difficulty of winning games at the Oracle Arena, where Golden State had an NBA-best 36–5 record this year.
It would be a stunning upset if Golden State did not advance to the Western Conference Finals. The question doesn’t seem to be whether or not Golden State will the series, but rather: how many games will it take for Golden State to finish off Utah’s postseason run?