The Warriors handled business in their first game against the Utah Jazz with a 106-94 win that was not as close as the final margin would indicate. Here are some key trends from the first game that will be important elements to watch for as the series continued.
The Golden State Warriors jumped out to a 9-0 lead in the first quarter of Game 1 against the Utah Jazz and never really looked back. Utah cut the Warriors' lead to one point early in the first quarter but never led in a 106-94 victory for the Warriors. Although the Jazz did manage to cut the deficit slightly in garbage time (Golden State led by 20 points with 5:16 remaining), the Warriors dictated the flow of the game for the entire night.
While it is too early in the series to draw firm conclusions, there were some important elements from this game that will factor into the direction of the rest of the series.
1. Draymond Green cannot be stopped
Draymond Green might not have led the Warriors in scoring on Monday night, but he was Golden State's most important player. He finished with 17 points on 10 shots, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals. He and Klay Thompson led the Warriors to a huge run to start the second quarter, as the Warriors quickly turned a 6-point lead into a double-digit margin with only those two starters on the floor. Draymond's plus-minus of +19 was better than any Warrior besides Thompson. He also capped off the big Warriors run to start the second quarter with some crucial baskets:
While his offense was an important part of Golden State's success, Draymond did most of his damage on the defensive end. The Jazz did not manage to crack 80 points until late in garbage time, with less than five minutes to go. Draymond kept Joe Johnson mostly in check whenever he matched up with him, and the Jazz received minimal contributions from their frontcourt.
While Kevin Durant deserves the lion's share of the credit for neutralizing Gordon Hayward, Draymond will in all likelihood be the most important player in this series, due to Utah's lack of frontcourt pieces that can match up with Draymond. If Game 1 is any indication, Draymond will look to take full advantage of whoever is across from him in this series.
2. No Pace, No Space, No Problem
In my series preview, I wrote that the Jazz will need to control the pace of the series to have a chance against the Warriors. They managed to do that quite well in Game 1; Basketball-Reference estimated that the pace of Game 1 was 91.2 possessions, which is actually slightly slower than Utah's 30th-ranked estimated pace of 91.6 during the regular season.
Golden State also struggled mightily from deep in Game 1, making only 7 of their 29 attempts from beyond the arc. However, they were still able to pick the Jazz apart with precision passing. The Warriors assisted on 32 of their 40 made shots last night, despite their ineffectiveness from deep.
If Utah can keep the speed of the game to a crawl for the rest of this series and get a good game from Gordon Hayward, they could easily take a game or two from the Warriors. However, the fact that they still were not able to take advantage of the slow pace and Golden State's poor shooting is a bad sign for them going forward.
3. Utah's Star No-Show
Gordon Hayward had a miserable showing in Game 1. He scored 12 points on 4-15 shooting, including a 2-9 performance from deep. While he did help to hound KD into a relatively low-scoring and inefficient night (17 points but on 17 shots), Hayward is too important to Utah's offense for them to be able to win against Golden State if he does not have a fantastic performance.
Rudy Gobert had a far better night in the series opener. He helped Utah to outscore the Warriors in the paint 46-44 and was Utah's leading rebounder on a night when they finished +7 on the glass. However, he only managed to grab 8 rebounds against less than stellar opposition inside. He also allowed Steph Curry to do this to him:
It would be unfair to expect Gobert to put up 20-20 games in this series. Although he has made massive strides on offense this year, he is still a complementary piece on that end. Furthermore, his defensive value at the rim alone is enough to make him an All-NBA caliber player.
However, he needs to do better than he did in Game 1 for Utah to have a chance in this series. He might not be a 20-20 player, but he should be far better than a 13-8 player against the Warriors' center crop. Rudy Gobert against Zaza Pachulia/David West/Javale McGee is the single greatest advantage that the Jazz have in this series. For them to take any games from the Warriors in this series, they will need much more from Gobert on either the offensive end or on the glass than what they got from him in the first game of the series.