Playoffs 2017: West Semifinals -- Warriors (1) vs. Jazz (5)
Another series, another sweep for surging Golden State Warriors
The heavy title favorites improve to 8-0 in the playoffs with seven double-digit victories and an average point differential of 16.5 per game
SALT LAKE CITY — If you’re completely overmatched, as the Jazz just were, as the Blazers were before them, all you can ask for is a cigarette and mercy. With the inevitable about to happen, make it painless and quick.
Well, the Warriors had planned to show such compassion all along. Remember, this is a team that blew a 3-1 lead! last summer, and so in these playoffs thus far, they’ve made a point to remove all suspense and doubt and also most fans in the building by midway in the fourth quarter.
Therefore, after eight days of, ahem, “labor,” that’s a wrap for the first two rounds, with the Jazz swept aside in four games just like the Blazers, as the Warriors attempt to further justify their championship-quality level of talent. All that’s missing is, well, ailing coach Steve Kerr of course, but otherwise the Warriors’ run into spring is seamless if not spotless.
The good news with this team is also the not-so-good news: Golden State has yet to issue a total beatdown on the level of the Cavs in the East. A nitpick? Well, OK. But: It also leaves the impression that there’s still another Golden State gear to be shifted, another manner of punch still to be thrown, and that it’ll happen soon enough. In the meantime, they’ll sit back and watch the Rockets and Spurs bloody each other and play what’s left of the winner in the West finals.
Perhaps then some suspense will be invited in a Warriors’ playoff series. Or maybe, as a segment of the basketball world suspects, the next team to give the Warriors a run will be the team that ran them off the floor feeling crushed and embarrassed after Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
“I’m impressed with how we’re playing our brand of basketball,” said Draymond Green. “We’ve imposing our will in eight games. If we do that, with the experience and talent we have on this team, it’ll be tough to beat us.”
In addition to emerging unbeaten after two rounds, the Warriors are also uninjured. Zero defeats and zero players limping to the locker room. How can playoff life be any better than that? Last year they received a scare when Steph Curry suffered knee and ankle injuries during the early rounds and there was a suspicion that Curry was never really 100 percent in the NBA Finals.
“Injuries are really something you can’t control, but we helped ourselves by getting this done in four games each round, get to take some time off, and guys weren’t playing heavy minutes,” Curry said. “Nobody hurt. That’s a big deal and we can take that advantage into the next round.”
Here’s the lowdown on the Warriors after eight games:
* Durant is shooting 53 percent and has the green light from his teammates and coaching staff to be the lead singer whenever he so chooses. There is harmony with him and Curry and Klay Thompson and an understanding that he can do as he pleases.
* Green is flexing his defensive biceps in the playoffs, making big stops in spots either with a timely block, steal or other things that don’t qualify as a statistic.
* Curry hasn’t been at his best in terms of efficient shooting, and it hasn’t mattered. Likewise for Thompson, but both combined for 51 points Monday in the decisive Game 4 against Utah.
* Also, Mike Brown, the emergency head coach in place of the ailing Kerr, has made for a smooth transition. Not only has he not screwed anything up, the players feel he has helped.
Stir it up and there’s your 8-0 Western Conference favorites.
“They all believe in each other and they are willing to sacrifice for each other,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “They’ve got each other’s backs. That’s what I see when you play them.”
Keep in mind that this has come together in one season, with Durant jumping aboard a two-time NBA finalist with no negative ripple effect. He has mentioned more than once how he feels like he’s been here for much longer. Much credit deserves to go to the system Kerr established, the same system Brown is using to keep harmony and cohesion. Basically, the ball moves on offense and everyone buys in defensively, a collective “help scheme” for a team built on a pair of MVPs and four All-Stars in all.
Durant is particularly impressed with the Warriors’ commitment on defense, a staple of assistant coach Ron Adams, who’s a disciple of Tom Thibodeau. Durant says he wasn’t aware of how much the team embraces defense when he was with Oklahoma City and on the outside looking in. The Jazz managed only 37 percent shooting in Game 4 when they were playing for their playoff lives; in the post-season, Golden State is allowing only 40 percent.
“Dray, Klay, myself and all the way down the line,” said Durant. “We got so many guys who can defend and are smart defenders.”
Also about these Warriors: They talk constantly to each other, sometimes with a smile on their faces, others through gritted teeth. It’s OK and all egos are placed aside, at least so far, for the betterment of the team. Green and Durant have butted heads. Durant and Curry have had animated discussions. And on and on. As Durant said, “it’s just basketball” and apparently the healthy conversation keeps them focused and all input is welcome.
“We don’t have guys trying to win it themselves,” said Green. “We have the ultimate trust in each other. We keep our composure and understand we can go on a run at any time.”
While it might be fun for the Warriors and their supporters to watch, it hasn’t made for compelling playoff basketball, not yet anyway. The Warriors would love every series to be this boring and predictable in their favor, although they’re wise enough to know it’s bound to get tougher from here at some point.
“We have four more wins to get to the Finals,” said Curry. “We have to control our process and journey. It’s no easy task to get to the Finals let alone win it. It may seem like it’s been quick but we’ve learned lessons through winning.
“We have a lot of talent and we try to do it by committee. That’s our approach to every game. We never know who’s going to have the hot night. We move the ball, use each other to create open shots and when we do that, the ball is hopping and a lot of good things happen. We’ve got to keep that going.”
As for the Jazz, the highlight of the night happened in the final few minutes with the outcome no longer in doubt. The remaining fans chanted — begged, maybe? — for Gordon Hayward, who’s an unrestricted free agent this summer. It would be a surprise if Hayward left a 50-win, well-coached team that’s on the upswing, but Durant left an even better team last summer for the Warriors so anything is possible.
Durant evidently made the right choice. His new team is healthy, rested and motivated to atone for blowing a chance last summer to win two straight titles. The ultimate revenge for that is winning in June against the Cavs, who are also scorching a trail in that direction in the East, but that likely matchup is weeks away.
Until then, the Warriors hope to leave either Houston or San Antonio the same way they left Portland and Utah: Swept aside, like the debris left inside a closed-for-the-season Vivint Arena.
Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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