It only makes sense, in this crazy season of constant injuries, that the Jazz were forced to play through another round of health issues in the playoffs.
What started back in the preseason with Gordon Hayward’s finger injury has continued into the postseason. Both rounds in the playoffs, no less.
The latest casualty is George Hill, who has been bothered by a sore big toe the last several months. Without their starting point guard, the Jazz were no match for the Golden State Warriors, who opened a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series by winning 115-104 on Thursday night in Oakland.
“Obviously, we miss George,” coach Quin Snyder said in his pregame press conference. “George’s scoring and shot making are something that we miss when he’s not playing.”
By now, not that they have any choice, the Jazz roll with all the injury news. Remember, Rudy Gobert went down for three games on the first possession in Game 1 against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
It might only seem like the Warriors can turn it on any time they want. This was best illustrated in the third quarter, when the Jazz got to within six points of the lead before Golden State quickly pushed it back to 15 points.
To their credit, the Jazz have not wallowed in pity at any point this season. But going against the Warriors at less than full strength is too difficult a task.
On a team that won 51 games in the regular season and another four in the playoffs against the Clippers, Hill arguably has been the most indispensable player. The Jazz are deep at several positions, but point guard has been a revolving door most of the season.
The Jazz have kept four point guards on the roster this season, quite possibly because Snyder and general manager Dennis Lindsey were not completely sold on any of them outside of Hill. At various times throughout the season, Snyder has rotated playing time among Shelvin Mack, Dante Exum and Raul Neto.
Mack started in place of Hill against the Warriors, marking the third time has been inserted into the lineup. For the first two months of the season, Mack got extensive playing time only to fall completely out of the rotation as the winter progressed.
Even in the first round against the Clippers, Mack did not get consistent playing time. In the final three games of the series he played a total of three minutes, including none at all in games 4 and 5.
Neto and Exum were in similar situations all season.
“It’s not like we roll the dice and flip a coin,” Snyder said in selecting a starter when Hill does not play.
Whatever decisions Snyder is making, they are not making enough of a difference in this series. The reality is, the Jazz probably were not going to win four games even with a healthy Hill.
The Warriors, who have advanced to the NBA finals the last two seasons, are that good. Given all of Golden State’s overwhelming talent, the Jazz – along with most teams in the league – cannot shut down every option.
In Game 2, it was Draymond Green’s turn to shine. The do-everything forward, who is a strong candidate to win Defensive Player of the Year, got the Warriors off to a fast start with sensational 3-point shooting.
For all the star power that Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, Green is the team’s energizer. His four 3-pointers in the first half went a long way toward the Warriors breaking the game open early.
Few players in the league can block a shot and then gather himself to be the point man on a fast break. Green, who finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists, is one of those players.
“As a coach, he’s the kind of player you want to coach,” Snyder said. “You want to coach him because he’s got an edge.”
Offensively, the Jazz did not find any rhythm until late in the second quarter. After a horrendous start, a 10-0 run sliced in half Golden State’s 20-point lead.
But then Green struck again. His fifth 3-pointer of the half pushed the advantage back to 15 points.