NBA Playoffs: The Deeper You Go, the Greater the ‘D’ by Lenny Del Genio
Golden State’s magnificent first round upset is in the history books, becoming the first No. 8 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed in a 7-Game series. Unfortunately, their Cinderella story ended right there, as the Utah Jazz just smoked the Warriors in 5 Games. How did the Jazz do it, after the mighty Mavericks failed so miserably?
Defense and inside play. The Game 5 clincher spoke volumes about the whole series, which Utah dominated inside. Golden State averaged 107 ppg this season, yet Utah held them to 101 and 87 in the final two Games, which sailed under the total by 3 and 30 points.
In Game 5, the Warriors, at various junctures, were 4-for-17, then 4-for-18, then 4-for-19, then 4-for-20. They shot 20 percent (or 6-for-30) from behind the arc for the Game. They hit two of 10 threes in the final quarter, with the season on the line. None of Golden State’s guards did much to hurt the Jazz. Baron Davis had 21 points, but shot just 5-for-16 from the field in Game 5.
The Warriors and Jazz were tied with 6 1/2 minutes to play when Golden State ran out of gas for the second straight Game. The Warriors hit one field goal the rest of the way, missed five consecutive three-point tries at one point and were outscored 17-4 down the stretch. The difference was defense, which is the key ingredient this time of the season.
Utah advances to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, the year they battled some guy named Michael Jordan in the Finals. Notice that since 2003 NBA playoffs, from the Conference Finals to the NBA Finals, the unders are 50-37-1. It’s no surprise, either. When the Conference Finals get going, that means there are only 4 remaining teams in the NBA.
You can bet that teams are not going to pack it in so close to the Holy Grail. They’re going to fight and scrap and give it all they have every Game. The only team I can think of that packed it in might have been the 2004 Lakers, who got upset in the Finals in 5 Games by the Pistons. The Lakers were being torn apart by petty infighting between Kobe Bryant and Shaq, the latter who left a few weeks later. For the most part, though, teams bring their ‘A’ Game, which means loads of defense.
San Antonio has been playing its normal strong defense this time of the season, going 10-2 under the total the last 12 Games. The Spurs have won titles in 1999, 2003 and 2005. Coach Gregg Popovich knows what it takes to win this time of the season. To put that in perspective, look at the Spurs first round playoff series with Denver. The Nuggets averaged 104 ppg during the regular season, yet San Antonio held them to 100, 95, 88, 91, 89 and 78 points in the six Games. Their defense got significantly better as the season went along, too. Part of that is the players see each other for 5, 6 of 7 Games in a row, so they learn the tendencies of the opponent and can anticipate some of their moves.
You don’t have to tell Baron Davis and the Warriors, they already know. The Jazz defense was dominating at the end of the Four Games they won. In the final 6:33 of Game Utah went on an 18-10 run to close it out, in the final 5:52 of Game 2 they went on a 20-5 run, a 29-14 run to close out Game 4 and a 17-4 run in the final 6:26 of Game 5. That’s some serious defense! “They were a lot more physical than Dallas, and we got outmuscled,” said Warriors guard Baron Davis.
In fact, in last season’s NBA Final Four, the under went 14-4 between the Heat/Pistons, the Suns/Mavericks, and the Heat/Mavs Finals. That’s some more serious defense!