SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—For now, the Utah Jazz can focus on trying to keep a lead in a playoff series rather than having to come from behind.
The Jazz lead the Golden State Warriors 1-0 in the Western Conference semifinals after winning the opener 116-112 on Monday. It’s the first time Utah has opened a series with a victory since 2001.
The Jazz had to rally after losing the first two games against the Rockets in the opening round and never led in the series until they won Game 7 in Houston on Saturday. So how will they handle being in front?
“I tell them to win every game. Sometimes they don’t listen,” coach Jerry Sloan said after practice Tuesday.
Utah won the opener against the Warriors despite playing at a tempo much better suited to Golden State. It was the most points for the Jazz in a playoff game since scoring 117 in the first-round opener against Sacramento in 1999.
Sloan is much more comfortable with his team scoring somewhere in the 80s and hopes the Jazz don’t try to run with the Warriors again in Game 2 Wednesday night.
Utah took 23 3-pointers against Golden State. That’s almost 10 more than the Jazz averaged against the Rockets, but still less than the 31 attempts Golden State took from beyond-the-arc.
“It looked like we wanted to shoot as many as they did. Some of them got us in trouble,” Sloan said. “You’d better make those. We have no chance to recover defensively. That’s where the problem comes in for us.”
Sloan was understanding and in a pretty good mood Tuesday, likely because his team won the previous night. But he wasn’t about to let his players get complacent because they lead the No. 8 seed by one game in what could still be a long series.
“By the time you think that, that’s what happens. You have your ears boxed off the side of your head,” Sloan said.
Utah lost the series opener in 2002 and 2003 to Sacramento and was knocked out in the first round both times. The last time the Jazz opened the playoffs with a win was 2001, when they beat Dallas in the first two games, then lost three straight in the old best-of-five format.
So one game in the conference semifinals doesn’t make Sloan terribly comfortable.
“It really doesn’t mean anything, I’ll tell you that,” Sloan said. “The first team who gets four, that’s what counts.”
Golden State doesn’t plan to change much for Game 2, other than improve on the 54-36 advantage Utah had in rebounding. The Warriors invited the Jazz to try to run with them again and see if they can take the series back to Oakland tied at one game apiece.
“We know what we have to do in Game 2 to win the basketball game, and that’s stay close and correct some of the small details that we didn’t adjust to in Game 1,” Golden State’s Baron Davis said.
After beating top-seeded Dallas in the opening round, the Warriors aren’t too concerned with a one-game deficit to the Jazz. A win Wednesday night would negate Utah’s home-court advantage in the best-of-seven series.
Even after a woeful night of rebounding, the Warriors had plenty of chances to win the opener. Utah didn’t take the lead for good until Carlos Boozer scored off an offensive rebound with 17 seconds left to play.
“We did have a chance to win that game. We were right there at the end,” coach Don Nelson. “I don’t want to overreact on anything, but there are certain obvious things that we have to do a better job on.”
Rebounding is the biggest one, but the Warriors also need to keep Utah point guard Deron Williams in check.
He went head-to-head with Davis and finished with 31 points and eight assists in only his eighth career playoff game.
“He played big. He won the game for them yesterday,” Golden State’s Jason Richardson said. “We can’t let him have big games like that where he’s scoring and dishing the ball out.”