Home Sports Who’s the biggest Jazz threat to Warriors? It could be anybody

Who’s the biggest Jazz threat to Warriors? It could be anybody

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			Who’s the biggest Jazz threat to Warriors? It could be anybody


OAKLAND – Unlike previous incarnations, the current Utah Jazz team is more like a true jazz ensemble. It doesn’t depend too heavily on any one soloist to put together a winning show.

Who’s the most dangerous Jazz player to the Warriors when they open the Western Conference semifinals Tuesday night at Oracle Arena? Heck of a question. It’ll likely depend on the time of the game, the situation, which team is ahead, and who’s on the floor for both clubs.

For now, would you believe anybody from Utah could potentially be most dangerous? Draymond Green would.

“They’re dangerous,” said Green on Monday. “There’s not one specific guy. Obviously, Gordon Hayward is their leading scorer and a huge playmaker for them. But it’s a group effort. It’ll be about trying to shut them down, not him, whoever that `him’ is.”

Such an egalitarian approach is something of an anomaly in the NBA, particularly in the playoffs when the stars usually rise to the top at this stage of the game. But the Jazz don’t have a true superstar. They barely have a star. Hayward, in his sixth season, finally made the All-Star team this year as a reserve, but before that, the Jazz hadn’t had an All-Star since 2011.

But in this series, Utah doesn’t necessarily need Hayward to play like an All-Star to win.

“There are teams in this league where you say, `If you stop this guy, you win the game,’ ” Green said. “They’re not one of those teams.”

That message seems to have been heavily preached to the Warriors once they could finally practice for a specific opponent. Or maybe they just know the Utah schematic by heart, having watched the Jazz dismantle the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 7 with a deep, diverse cast of heroes.

“They definitely do it by committee,” said Stephen Curry. “Gordon is the most consistent threat to have a big game, but the way that they play, while it’s not as fast as we do it, it’s very similar in that they move the ball and everybody touches it and everybody’s a threat. They rely on that third and fourth scorer, whether it’s Rodney Hood or (Boris) Diaw or Joe (Johnson) off the bench, they have a lot of guys who can score. Even George Hill had a great 3-point shooting game when they played here. So you can’t sleep on anybody.”

While the Warriors are the heavy favorites in this series, the Jazz can kill you with their own version of strength in numbers coupled with their deliberate execution. The Clippers found that out the hard way. They’d get Hayward buttoned down and Joe Ingles would knock down an open 3. They’d lock down the perimeter and Derrick Favors would get loose inside or convert a second-chance bucket. Of course, 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert is a threat at any time for a lob dunk or rebound put-back.

Utah has to know that to have any chance in this series, players other than Hayward are probably going to have to rise up offensively, because the Warriors historically have done a very good job keeping the versatile small forward under wraps with elite defenders such as Green and Andre Iguodala to guard him.

Hayward only played in one of the three meetings against Golden State this season, but that one game was a nightmare — six points on 2 of 10 shooting. In 2015-16 against the Warriors, Hayward had one game where he shot 2 for 15, another where he was 5 for 15 and yet another when he went 7 for 20 – all losses. For his career, he has averaged just 12.6 points on 38.6 percent shooting against the Warriors, and the only team to shut him down better than that is San Antonio, against which he has averaged 12.4 points on 38.1 percent shooting.

Hayward does have help, though. Interim head coach Mike Brown said that in many ways, the Jazz resemble the Spurs in their ability to hurt you many different ways with many different players. Utah preys on opponents that relax or lose focus on defense at the end of a possession.

“They do have some young pieces, but they don’t play like they’re young,” Brown said. “There’s never any panic in them at all. They move the ball and drive and kick and set screens. There might be six seconds left on the shot clock and they’ll make one or two more passes, so we have to be poised and disciplined to play the shot clock all the way through.”

And at the end of games, the Warriors know they have to be wary of 35-year-old veteran guard Johnson, the one true isolation threat on the Utah roster, and he’s been huge for them all season in pressure situations.

“Man … he’s just a guy who can get a bucket,” said Green. “That’s important in the playoffs to have that guy where, when stuff is breaking down, you get him the ball and he can go get a bucket. He’s been that for them, and he’s very important for us to try and stop in this series.”

That could be said about any player getting significant minutes in the Utah rotation. Without question, it was so much easier in the Portland series when the Warriors could just focus on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Now they have eight or nine guys that could prove to be most dangerous on any given night.

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