They are a tough team. They are going to be really good. I like them if they keep everything, that’s the thing. —Kevin Durant on the Utah Jazz
The Golden State Warriors dropped a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals last year to the Cleveland Cavaliers yet were considered the championship favorite going into the 2016-17 season. Adding Kevin Durant, recipient of the 2014 Most Valuable Player award, wiped away any poor memories of the Warriors' collapse.
On paper, the Warriors appeared dangerous and capable of outscoring any team ever put together. With Stephen Curry, a two-time MVP, Klay Thompson and Durant at the helm, the Warriors were projected to be unstoppable — and they were.
After narrowly defeating the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of this year's playoffs, the young Utah Jazz were tasked with challenging the Warriors, who swept the Portland Trail Blazers, in the semifinals.
Like most before them, the Jazz fell prey to the Warriors' length, 3-point shooting and suffocating defense, losing the series without a single win.
At the time, the losses were relatively embarrassing.
The Jazz had lost each of the four games by an average of 15 points, making it a rather uncompetitive series. But the Jazz weren't an anomaly by any means. The Warriors went on to win the championship and came out almost unscathed, with a 16-1 record.
Durant won his first championship and Finals MVP award, solidifying himself as one of the greatest players in league history.
Golden State's dominance, with Durant elevating his game in the postseason, made its road to the championship seem easy. But in a recent podcast with Bill Simmons, Durant spoke about the challenges the Warriors faced in the playoffs, specifically noting the difficulties the Jazz presented.
"We had some struggles, you know," Durant said. "That Utah series was a tough one. We were winning games but it was, just like, you know they were switching everything. They were running sets all the way through. They have a big shot blocker, so it was kinda hard to get into the paint. They are a tough team. They are going to be really good. I like them if they keep everything, that’s the thing."
The Jazz, even in their defeat, did present some challenges.
Rudy Gobert, one of the three nominees for this year's Defensive Player of the Year award, was a load for the Warriors to handle inside, especially when they opted to play small lineups. And as Durant mentioned, the Jazz operated smoothly and ran their plays to completion, despite finding themselves in a deficit.
Utah also did a solid job of scrambling to Durant on the perimeter, holding him to 50 percent shooting in the series, which is the worst percentage he had in any series in the playoffs.
The blueprint for beating the Warriors hasn't been created, but the Jazz did have some successes they could build on for next season, provided they can re-sign Gordon Hayward and keep the core together, as Durant alluded to.