Fisher Sends Golden State FishingDerek Fisher scored 11 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Utah Jazz beat the Golden State Warriors 100-87 to win their series 4-1 and advance to the Western Conference Finals. Utah also got strong performances from Carlos Boozer (21 points, 14 rebounds) and Andrei Kirilenko (21 points, 15 rebounds). The Jazz outrebounded the Warriors 59-35 and their 269-171 rebounding advantage during the series is the largest in NBA playoff history according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Baron Davis led the Warriors with 21 points, eight assists and six steals but shot just 5-16 from the field, including 1-7 from three point range. Stephen Jackson scored 16 points but shot 3-17 overall and matched Davis' 1-7 three point shooting. Midway through the game, I realized exactly who the Warriors resemble: a team composed of five Gilbert Arenas clones--not in physical appearance, of course, but in style of play. Arenas shoots from anywhere at any time and when he is hot everything is beautiful. Of course, sooner or later bad shot selection catches up with you.
A glance at the final score may make one think that Utah won by slowing the game down but the reality is that the Jazz nearly fell into the same trap that doomed Dallas in the first round; playing slowly against Golden State merely allows the Warriors to sag into the paint and use their quick hands to deflect passes and get steals. Utah led 80-73 at the 11:40 mark in the fourth quarter, which would be a 106 point pace, but the Jazz scored just nine points in the next nine minutes; they stopped running, were unable to get the ball inside due to Golden State's swarming halfcourt defense and they ended up with a lot of turnovers and forced three pointers. Fisher saved the day by scoring nine of Utah's first 18 points in the fourth quarter. The Jazz scored 100 points only because they made 10 free throws in the last 2:35; the fourth quarter pace was slow and this did not work to Utah's advantage. While it makes sense to slow the game down against Phoenix and pound the Suns to death in the paint--a strategy that almost worked even for the woefully undermanned Lakers in the 2006 playoffs--Golden State plays much more tenacious and scrappy halfcourt defense; the way to beat the Warriors is to run with them, wear them out and rely on the fact that your team cannot possibly have worse shot selection or shoot a lower percentage than the Warriors do. If the Mavericks would have run with the Warriors for the whole series then Dirk Nowitzki could have averaged about 30 ppg and Dallas would have won the series. If you don't believe that, just go back and look at the scores of the games that Golden State won and lost in this year's playoffs. Utah's Game Five win is, by far, the lowest scoring game that Golden State lost and the Jazz won more by attrition than anything else; the Warriors did not make a field goal in the last 3:39 of the game, exhausted after five games of running up and down the court with the Jazz and battling them in the paint. Golden State does not play good transition defense and uses a short rotation, so it makes no sense to slow the game down and fight against their octopus-like halfcourt defense. Carlos Boozer is a better postup scorer than Nowitzki will ever be and when the game slowed down in the fourth quarter he scored exactly no field goals for the first 11:48; his only basket came on a layup with :12 left and the outcome no longer in doubt. If Boozer could not score on the block in a slow down game against Golden State then why would anyone expect Nowitzki to do it? Many of Boozer's points in this series came on second chance points or when Utah pushed the ball and went to a quick attack, not allowing Golden State to drape bodies all over him.
As Charles Barkley noted on TNT's Inside the NBA, Utah has been very impressive so far; the Jazz beat a slow down, grind it out Houston team in the first round and then defeated a helter skelter, up tempo Golden State team in the conference semifinals. It would seem that the Jazz are well prepared for whatever kind of team they will face in the Conference Finals.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:17 AM