The Utah Jazz kick off their return to postseason play this Saturday night to face off against the LA Clippers. The series is already guaranteed to be full of great post defense, a great battle at the point guard spot, and a melding of two of the best coaches in the league. The Clippers took the season series 3-1, but the Jazz played impressively in the lone win and showed up defensively for each match up.
However, we now enter the playoffs where things are generally turned up another notch. And the Jazz are facing a healthy and talent-laden Clippers team that, despite not having any deep runs to the conference finals with this core, are always a tough team in the first round.
So, I’m taking a break from non-stop spinning Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN’ to dissect this series and talk about a few of the keys (get it? Keys...Jazz...Music…) to success for the Jazz.
The most significant and crucial ELEMENT (sorry, the album is embedded in me now) to the Jazz’s success is, of course, their defense. For most of the season, they hovered around the top five in defensive rating, ending the season ranked third in that category and ranked first overall in opponents points allowed.
The Jazz are going to need to be in the absolute best shape defensively throughout this entire series if they even hope to contain the Clippers, who finished sixth in points per game and are also one of the best home teams in the league.
Having a sustainable defense should be the least of the worries for the Jazz, as they’ve proven throughout the regular season, that defense is the one thing they can deliver on consistently. Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward, and George Hill will need to come prepared every game to contain the star players on the Clippers.
The second most important key to success for the Jazz is actually quite a drastic one. They are going to need to get comfortable playing at a much faster pace than normal. They finished the season dead last in pace and 28th in points per game.
Pace wasn’t a glaring issue for them in the regular season because, although the offense was more collected and leisurely, their defense was able to subjugate the fact that they weren’t scoring so much.
But now that they are in a win or go home series with one of the highest powered offenses in the conference, against a team and coach who love to dictate and manipulate the pace, the Jazz will need to at least be comfortable forcing the ball more.
It’s difficult to see the Jazz be able to sustain a higher rate of offense for an entire series without a volume scorer, but as long as they’re able to play in the moments when the Clippers want to push, and the Jazz and maintain their composure on defense, they should be able to survive those situations.
The final key that I’ll discuss because I’m seriously aching to get back to the Kendrick album, is one of almost unmanageable proportions, but it’s something that plagued the Jazz throughout the first half of the season; injuries.
Obviously, the health of the players is most important in any playoff series. But for the Jazz, it’s especially important. They are such a well-oiled machine where every player is a spinning gear, triggered to the next one. If even one of those gears were to fail, then the team fails.
They aren’t loaded with offensive star power that can bail them out if one or two guys have to bow out, every player is a cog and what they provide on both ends is just as important as every other player.
This 4v5 series is one of the more enticing in recent memory. You have a young, hungry Jazz team, playing not only to be taken seriously but perhaps for the future of the franchise, as the result of their playoff run might ultimately sway Gordon Hayward’s decision to return. Then there are the grizzled, veteran Clippers, trying to make it over the hump with this core for what seems like the tenth time. Two point guards that are great on both ends, two defensively framed big men battling down low, and Hayward trying to prove his star power.
What I’ve outlined isn’t the surefire way to defeat the Clippers, but these are a few things to keep an eye on as the series progresses and if these things pan out to the benefit of the Jazz, then it will be a very competitive and entertaining series.