Our defense to start the first quarter gave us a chance to settle in, and that’s what you need in the playoffs. —Stephen Curry
OAKLAND — One of the reasons the Utah Jazz are one of the least desirable playoff opponents for Golden State is the Jazz’s propensity for dictating a slow pace. But they didn’t pose that problem for the top-seeded Warriors on Tuesday as they won 106-94 in the opening game of their second-round series.
When the Warriors outscored Utah 19-12 during the first half of the second quarter, it was clear the game was being played at the pace the Warriors favor.
The Jazz are one of the few teams that can come close to the Warriors’ depth, and their size has given the Warriors problems. But it was Utah’s ability to dictate tempo, especially milking the 24-second shot clock, that the Warriors cited entering the series.
That wasn’t a factor Tuesday, though, and by all accounts, the Warriors’ defense was the reason for that.
The Jazz did milk the clock for their opening points, needing more than four minutes to crack the scoring column, trailing 9-0 by then even though the Warriors weren’t shooting well, either.
“Our defense to start the first quarter gave us a chance to settle in, and that’s what you need in the playoffs,” said Stephen Curry, who scored a game-high 22 points despite making only one three-pointer.
The Jazz also aggravate the Warriors simply by hanging around, and they did cut the first-quarter lead to one point before the Warriors upped the tempo, cashing in on mistakes for fast-break points. Early in the second quarter it was clear that the Jazz were not the pace-setters.
Borrowing from Utah’s playbook, Klay Thompson hit a three-pointer with three seconds left on the shot clock during a Warriors burst in the first two minutes of the second period that put their lead into double-digits for the first time.
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder cited that basket among costly defensive lapses. “If you have those moments when you’re not urgent enough, they just punish you for it,” he said.
The Jazz committed only 13 turnovers, but with the Warriors committing only seven, the Jazz weren’t winning the crucial possessions battle.
“If we win the possession game,” said Warriors acting head coach Mike Brown, “we can outscore most of our opponents.”
So the Warriors led 39-25 lead with 9:22 left in the half, and the Jazz were looking like just another opponent, matching jump shots with the Warriors — playing Golden State’s game.
A pair of threes got the Jazz within 61-54 early in the third quarter, but they never got closer, and the game still hadn’t become the sort of grind that gives the Warriors fits. They reeled off nine straight and were off to the races.
“It goes back to how quickly they think,” Snyder said. “We’ve got to be better offensively to attack them.”
The Warriors aren’t likely to rule out that possibility in their planning for Game 2, given how much trouble the Jazz have given them in other games.
The Warriors’ most deflating defeat in 2014-15 probably was Utah’s 110-100 victory on a late-January Saturday.
In the midst of the Warriors’ season-opening 24-game winning streak in the fall of 2015, the 106-103 victory at Utah was one of the most competitive, with the Jazz leading much of the way and the Warriors needing four three-pointers from then-unheralded reserve guard Ian Clark to stay in the game.
Last December, the Warriors got off to a 29-5 start over a skeleton Jazz crew that lacked Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, George Hill and Rodney Hood, and the Jazz ended up losing by only seven, 106-99.
And, of course, the Jazz were the only team to beat the Warriors during their final 18 regular-season games this season, although the Warriors gave several stars the night off for that game in Oakland.
But none of that seemed to bother the Warriors on Tuesday. Their offense may be what makes them popular, but, Snyder said, “they’re one of the top two defensive teams for a reason.”