Utah is trailing 3-0 vs. Golden State, but it feels like they shouldn't be.
The Utah Jazz were one of the most exciting teams to watch in Round 1. In Round 2, facing Golden State was always going to be a huge challenge, and they would probably not survive the series. In fact, they were something like 75-1 underdogs in a second-round series, which tells you more about Golden State than anything else.
And yet, the Jazz have kept this relatively interesting. In Game 1, Utah trailed by 12 at halftime and lost by 12.
In Game 2, Utah trailed by 18 after the first quarter and cut the lead to single digits multiple times in the final 13 minutes of the game.
In Game 3, Utah led by one with under seven minutes to play. They obviously couldn't close it out, but they were in the game throughout and were able to stay competitive, even if the final score wasn't all that close.
How it's been close, but not that close
Utah, remarkably, has slowed down the Warriors. They have clearly not stopped the Warriors, but slowing them down has been admirable in its own right. The game-plan of "Don't let Thompson and Curry beat us" has gone swimmingly.
Klay and Steph are only combining for 35 points per game and Thompson is a chilly 31 percent from beyond the arc. Utah clearly had a plan, and they have mostly executed it. The problem, as everyone knows, is that there are still other studs on this Warriors team. For example, Game 2 saw Draymond Green attempt five threes in the first half. He made all five. It was reminiscent of Game 7 of last year's Finals when Cleveland dared Draymond to be the difference, and he went off in the first half (stop me if you've heard this one, but the Warriors were up 3-1 in the Finals...).
Game 3, where Steph really struggled, saw Kevin Durant pop. He had only been 1-of-7 on three-pointers going into Game 3. He was 13-of-30 from the field and had scored 42 points to that point. In Game 3 he was 15-of-26, 4-of-8 from deep, scored 38 points, and somehow looked more dominant than that. Durant was unstoppable. He got any shot he wanted, and he made 60 percent of them.
Even when the Jazz took the lead, Durant could come off a screen and decide what would be their best option. He was right almost every time. Here are back to back possessions.
There was a surprisingly small amount of these pick and rolls, but it shows that Golden State can fall back on this anytime they want. That's hardly fair. (Incidentally, leaving the decision up to him led him to continually decide "I should shoot it." He was right.)
Offensively, the Jazz are doing OK, but nothing overly special. As we all know, Golden State has one of the best defenses in the NBA, but Utah has still occasionally drawn them out of position like the clip below. It's simple dribble-penetration, but as soon as it happens, the whole defense gets out of alignment, leaving Gobert free.
Rudy Gobert has been the beneficiary of the Warriors' incessant switching, leading to his 17 points per game on 74 percent shooting. It's too late now, but the Jazz desperately needed to draw up more plays and ways to get him touches near the hoop. Using Gobert in the pick and roll has been relatively ineffective due to the Dubs' overall defense, but there hasn't been as much effort to get him into the action by using someone else as the screener and let the Frenchman move to the open spots.
It's a bummer that Utah trails 3-0 because, according to the scoreboard, they've been competitive in each game. Admittedly, the scores could be slightly misleading. It's hard to imagine this team truly challenging the Warriors because of the rosters. Look at it this way: point guard - (big) advantage Golden State, shooting guard - (big) advantage Golden State, small forward - advantage Utah, power forward - (enormous) advantage Golden State, center - push (top two DPoY contenders at play, even if it's nearly impossible to compare them as they're such different players).
How could Utah realistically be expected to hang in this series?
The Warriors are like the alien ship in Independence Day. They loom over everything and are pretty clearly impossible to beat. The only way they can be stopped is by some perfect confluence of events and/or Will Smith. The Jazz are not Will Smith.
Trailing 3-0, there's no reason not to ask if Will is busy this week.