Home Sports Kawakami: My 2nd-round series prediction–Warriors in 5 over Utah

Kawakami: My 2nd-round series prediction–Warriors in 5 over Utah

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			Kawakami: My 2nd-round series prediction–Warriors in 5 over Utah

If the Warriors play like they did the last time they hit the court–that would be their Game 4 stampeding-brahmas masterpiece in Portland– then forget about the rest of the postseason, and maybe a few more postseasons.

Just toss the confetti and put the crown on them now if the Warriors just duplicate that first quarter a few more times.

If Utah, like the Trail Blazers, can’t even occasionally impede Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, JaVale McGee and the rest, then this second-round series will look an awful lot like the second half of Game 3, and all of Game 4, of the last round, and we know what that was like.


As much as Portland was uniquely positioned to be run over by the Warriors–very little perimeter defense, injured center, extremely balky supporting cast, inability to slow things down to just gum up the Warriors machine for very long…

Utah–with a tougher defense, an assemblage of players who might be tricky for the Warriors, and a determination to slow the pace–is positioned to throw a few more obstacles in the Warriors’ way.

Or this: I would say McGee won’t dominate his minutes vs. Utah the same way he did vs. the Trail Blazers. Just a guess. I might be wrong.

I don’t think the Jazz have enough to beat the Warriors… or necessarily even to win more than a game or two… but I do think Utah has some qualities that the Warriors will have to think through, figure out on the fly, and overcome.

I don’t think this will be a walk-over.

Also, we don’t know how the Warriors will react if they lose a playoff game right now, since they’ve never done it with this current Durant iteration and also we don’t know if Steve Kerr will be coaching or if it will be Mike Brown (and my sense is that it will be Brown at least for the first segment of this series).

So let’s take a closer look at this match-up…

* Having been through and analyzed a bunch of Warriors playoff series the last several years, sometimes it’s helpful just to jot down the upcoming opponent players who can or will bug the Warriors a little more than usual.

With Portland, the list was this:

-Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, and that’s it (with Jusuf Nurkic hobbled by injury);

And we know that the Warriors are never too worried when their opponent’s chances basically come down to throwing two smallish non-defensive guards at Curry, Klay and the rest.

With Utah, the list of potential Warriors trouble-makers is a lot longer:

-Rudy Gobert, Draymond’s main competitor for Defensive Player of the Year and a true, menacing shot-blocking force; there aren’t many big men that Curry has had trouble scoring against in pick-and-roll switch situations, but Gobert is one;

Gobert is working through an injury of his own, but he should be relatively good to go for the start of this series since he finished the last one looking OK;

-Boris Diaw, a herky-jerk, counter-move specialist who has given Draymond some of his toughest one-on-one match-ups because you just never know what Diaw might do next and he’s more physical than you think;

-George Hill, just a solid veteran point guard who can match up decently against Curry and make Curry work on defense;

-Joe Ingles, who has moved into the starting lineup and is another unpredictable, physical and creative player, a lefty who has befuddled the Warriors at times, and can hit the 3 if you lose him; he’s not capable of going shot-for-shot with Durant or Klay, but he’s somebody the Warriors have to pay attention to;

Also, Ingles did a nice job defensively in the Clippers series, and I suspect he will spend a lot of time guarding Durant in this one, with Hayward maybe mainly matching up against Klay, but that’s just a guess;

-Joe Johnson is another random-style offensive player who can freelance his way through some of the Warriors’ better schemes and just beat somebody one-on-one; this isn’t usually a big problem for the Warriors, who can send Iguodala or Draymond at him, or even Matt Barnes… but again, it’s something they’ll have to gameplan;

-Rodney Hood didn’t have a great series vs. LA, but he has scored against the Warriors because he’s another tricky lefty who can shoot from distance and he also is athletic enough to play some decent defense;

-And yes, I’ve kept star Gordon Hayward for last, because he is a terrific all-around player but has suffered through some of his worst, turnover-filled games against the Warriors, and Iguodala in particular;

That doesn’t mean Hayward is guaranteed to struggle in this series, of course. He has refined his game, he can play off of other guys (especially Johnson, who might draw Iguodala at times), and yes, Hayward can do a lot of other things besides score in bunches;

But I wouldn’t circle Hayward as a major problem spot for the Warriors. I would underline all the guys I listed above Hayward, and that’s more than any such list I draw up for most teams, frankly.

In many ways, this series sets up most similarly to the Warriors’ second-round meeting against Memphis in 2015, and we all know how thoroughly the Warriors were tested in that one.

Slow pace. Tricky match-ups. Instant physicality. Some guards who can play D and make Curry work. Great, hostile crowd for Games 3 and 4 and maybe 6.

These things can test the Warriors, and they know it.

I’m particularly interested in a second/fourth-quarter unit coach Quin Snyder threw out there vs. LAC: Hayward-Hood-Johnson-Ingles-Derrick Favors, which goes without a point guard but is so big on the perimeter that I wonder exactly how the Warriors might counter that.

But for all this, I think the Warriors are just too good for Utah, as they were too good eventually for Memphis in 2015, and they are better built for the playoffs now than they were in 2015.

Because if and when the offense bogs down, they can throw it to Durant, or just get him moving with some elbow action…

And if Durant is hitting shots, what’s Utah going to do?

That’s the essential question for all Warriors opponents: Even if you can hold down the other guys, what are you going to do if Durant gets hot?

The Warriors didn’t have to get to that level vs. Portland–remember, Durant missed two games and it didn’t matter–but I suspect we’ll see a game or two in this series when the Warriors look to Durant to bail them out a bit.

I think he can and will. I think the Warriors aren’t permanently at Game 4-level warp speed, but they can get there enough, and they’re working towards a peak… which means they should be able to get past Utah without major crises.

Plus, the Jazz only have one day off after that long seven-game series vs. the Clippers and that’s never an easy turn-around, while the Warriors have rested for a full week.

I think the Warriors win Game 1 easily, win Game 2, also, and then I think Utah has enough to claw out a victory in Salt Lake City in Game 3…

And then the whole series for the Jazz will ride on Game 4 in SLC, and I think it will be a very good contest, and if the Jazz locks down the Warriors and gets something special out of Johnson, Hayward, Hill or somebody else, they can even the series.

I don’t think Utah will do that, though. I think maybe we will see another Game 4 spectacle from the Warriors, which would put them up 3-1 and in line for a Game 5 close out at Oracle Arena, which I am predicting will happen.

This will be an interesting series, and maybe Kerr, Brown and the staff will have to do some adjusting, and I will be very much intrigued if they do and by what they do.

And I think the Warriors win in 5 games.

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