By JONAS TERRADO / TEMPO ONLINE
Hey told us to #TakeNote, and we now are. The Utah Jazz once again stole a game from the Los Angeles Clippers on their home floor on Tuesday, April 25 (Wednesday Manila time). Like Game 1, they took over the fourth quarter and won, 96-92, moving one game closer to advancing to the second round. Right now, the Western Conference is busy trying to figure out how to stop the almighty Golden State Warriors from three-peating a Finals berth. While it is not a bad decision to bank on the trusty San Antonio Spurs to pull the upset, here are 3 reasons the underrated Jazz may just be the ones to actually have the answers. 1. Youth Here we go again, right? Another article lambasting the age of the “Old But Gold” Spurs. However, this time, their age may actually be a deterrent for once, because the Warriors run blitzkrieg offense like no other. With Golden State holding a sizeable lead in fast break points per game, the answer would of course be to run with them and stop them in their tracks. Utah, with an average roster age of 26.2 years old, is third in the league at fast break defense and first in fast break defense efficiency. The Spurs, averaging a peaking 28.9 years old, are just 10th and 16th in those respective categories. 2. Overall Defense The Jazz led the league in fast break defense but are also the second-slowest fast break offense, with Dallas just narrowly edging them out at the very bottom. It is no surprise then that a team with such a dynamic command on the game’s pacing also leads the league in opponent points per game (opponents score the least points against them). They are also dead even at first place with San Antonio in opponent three-pointers per game, which makes them statistically the best teams to counter Golden State’s torrential offense from downtown. However, Utah still edges the Spurs out in a lot of the aforementioned defensive statistics. 3. Joe Johnson Forget fancy stats. Forget analytics, metrics and all that math stuff. There is some things that just cannot be analyzed nor predicted but rather just measured and admired, like the clutch gene. Now, the basketball world is being taught an important history lesson: Joe Johnson is still the most clutch player in the league when it matters most. Eyebrows were raised when the Jazz spent $22 million on an already-severely overpaid 35-year old scorer with no defensive capabilities. However, Iso Joe made sure that even more eyebrows would be raised once the playoffs come. After having a quiet season off Utah’s bench for the entire regular season, he is now their go-to scorer when the game is on the line. Of course, Johnson delivered, and is now averaging 18.2 points in 5 games on 53% shooting and 36% from three, just behind Gordon Hayward’s 21.8. He sank the buzzer-beating floater to steal the Game 1 win and scored 12 straight points plus the Game 5-winning jumper – both on the Clippers’ home floor. With Hayward not in the best of shape due to food poisoning, Johnson took over the pivotal Game 5 with 28 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. —– Now, the Jazz are just one win away from facing the Warriors in the Western semi-finals. Although the Spurs cannot possibly meet Golden State until the conference finals, the Jazz may just make that meeting impossible altogether.