by Christian Mordi / @mordi_thecomeup
The past couple of years have hosted some great 1 vs 8 seed matchups. From the Warriors-Mavericks upset in 2007 to last year’s Grizzlies-Spurs matchup, each first-round victory has become must-see TV.
The Spurs have been dominant this year, finishing the regular season with a 50-16 record. They bolstered the bench by acquiring Stephen Jackson, and allowing Manu Ginobili to slowly nurse himself back to health from a broken hand early in the season.
The Jazz have been one of the surprises of the season, combining young talents like Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors with seasoned vets Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. The Jazz have been great at home this year as well, at 25-8.
Look out in this series for many adjustments, great play execution and out-of-timeout plays. I can see many of these games going down to the wire.
This is probably the most interesting matchups of the series. Tony Parker is having an MVP-caliber season for the Spurs. His speed and relentless attacking of the rim are hard to stop with the shooters Pop has surrounded him with. With most point guards on an island defensively, Parker has capitalized this year. Devin Harris has been one of the most unpredictable players this year. In the first half of the year, he looked disinterested and seemed as if he was going through the motions. In the second half, he improved across the board in all categories. A former All-Star himself, Devin is a force when locked in. For Jazz fans, only time will tell which mindset he is in.
Danny Green is finding comfort in his new role as the starting shooting guard for the Spurs. He usually benefits most when teams lag off him to help stop Parker. Danny possesses a smooth stroke from behind the arc. Gordon Hayward is growing as a player each and every night. As the Jazz have increased his minutes and shots, he has found his game this year. In the second half of the season, he posted lines of 14 points, 4 boards and close to 50 percent from the field. The X-factor to his game is the free-throw attempts, which are close to 5 per with him shooting 86 percent.
Leonard is an athletic forward who has benefited from the trade of Richard Jefferson to the Warriors. He is still finding his game on offense, but on defense, he has played great in Pop’s system. Carroll’s game is very similar—a glue guy. He’s going to start the game out with energy, defend and rebound.
Despite his limited minutes this year (28 per game), Timmy D has been very efficient, posting a stat line of 15 points, 9 rebounds and close to 2 blocks per. The idea was to keep his legs fresh for the Playoffs. Paul Millsap has developed into quite the player. He is extremely efficient—shooting close to 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line—which, for a big man, is amazing. The close to 2 steals and a block per game is a testament to his defense; he has active hands and gives his all every possession. His greatest off-season improvement has been his ball handling; he has shown so much improvement that the Jazz run him sometimes at small forward. If Tim is he is hitting shots, and the former League MVP is forced to leave the comforts of the paint, it could lead to trouble.
Blair is a solid post player for the spurs. He has a nice touch in the post but is limited due to his lack of size (he stands at 6-6 on a good day and 270 after a light lunch) in regards to rebounding. He is the perfect example of what my old high school coach would call a “land dweller” with “heavy legs.” Al Jefferson may be one of the biggest All-Star Game snubs of the year. He has regained his form, pre-knee injury, and is posting close to 20 points and 10 rebounds per, while shooting close to 50 percent from the field. I cannot see how Blair will be able to stop him from getting on both sides of the floor.
Bench: Spurs vs Jazz
The Spurs have the best bench in basketball. Crafty veterans Stephen Jackson and Manu Ginobili wreak havoc on opposing second units. Utah has been using its second unit to ease young players into the NBA, with guys like Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. Utah uses a guard rotation of Jamaal Tinsley and CJ Miles to give them a veteran presence.
Coach: Gregg Popovich vs Tyrone Corbin
Pop is one of the elite coaches in the game. Few have been able to make the game-by-game adjustments as smoothly as he does. What amazes me about Pop is how he always has his players in position on out-of-timeout plays as well as on both sides of the ball. Corbin has done a great job in his first full year running the Jazz. He has kept the blueprint of the Jazz intact in regards to great execution of the half-court offense.
Prediction: The Spurs’ style of play—the grind it out half-court game—is actually very similar to the Jazz. The Jazz are at their worst when they play a team that likes to run and score a lot in transition, which the Spurs don’t look too much. The Spurs have the Playoff experience and roster depth to compete with any team, but they lack in one huge area: size.
Outside of Duncan, the rest of the team is quite small in the frontcourt. Utah on the other hand, is one of the biggest teams in the postseason, with a front line of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. The fact that they are extremely efficient big men from the free-throw line also can mean a lot of trouble from San Antonio.
We also should acknowledge that traditionally Utah is considered one of the harder teams to beat at home (25-8 this year), and if the Jazz can protect home, I can see another first-round upset on the horizon.
Jazz Win 4-3.