SALT LAKE CITY -- If this is what the rest of the Jazz-Warriors series is going to be like, then sign me up for six more, please.
Series worthy of distance run
Utah's 116-112 win had a little bit of everything, as the battle between Golden State's speed and the Jazz's power played to a draw for 47 minutes before Stephen Jackson's last-second 3-point try bounded off the rim and into the arms of Utah's Matt Harpring.
For basketball fans of any stripe, this one was a classic -- the type of game where even losing coach Don Nelson admitted, "I thought it was a really good game . . . I think we can play better, but we didn't play poorly, that's for sure."
The excitement started right out of the gate: The two sides played the best first quarter of the playoffs, exchanging haymakers in a period that ended 37-35 Utah.
It featured the supposedly too-slow Jazz running it down the Warriors' throats in the opening 5:10 to take a 17-7 lead, only to be followed by a 14-point explosion off the bench from the slumping Al Harrington that put Golden State back in contact. Led by Harrington, the Warriors scored 28 points in a stretch of less than six minutes -- a 224-point pace for a full game -- showcasing their quick-strike capability.
But led by the brilliant play of point guard Deron Williams, Utah would continue to take advantage of transition opportunities throughout the evening. The Jazz piled up 25 fast-break points on the night, making Jerry Sloan's pregame assertion that "We can't get in a track meet with them" seem straight out of the Don Nelson book of playing possum.
Williams was the surprise winner of the battle royale at point guard between him and Baron Davis, who had been the consensus MVP of the first round. He scored 31 points and handed out eight assists, topping Davis (24 points, seven assists) in both categories. More importantly, he held his own against Davis during the numerous isolations that the Warriors ran for him, especially during the third quarter when the Warriors got bogged down in post-up plays for Davis.
"It was incredible. He was so good," said Nelson. "What didn't he do?... He guarded, scored, assists, tough, led. That's why I like watching him so much."
Not that Davis was chopped liver himself. After a first quarter in which he seemed to be favoring his sore hamstring, finishing with no points and two turnovers, he warmed up fast in the second. Davis scored 17 points in the quarter without missing a shot, putting the Warriors up 66-63 at the break.
But ultimately, Game 1 came down to the size of Utah triumphing over the speed of Golden State. For much of Monday night's game there was an almost comic lineup situation in which the Warriors played with five perimeter players while the Jazz used four interior players and one guard against them.
Not surprisingly, the result was that the Jazz totally dominated on the glass, with Utah grabbing as nearly offensive boards (20) as the Warriors had on the defensive glass (22). Carlos Boozer led the way with 10, including a go-ahead putback in the fourth quarter -- helping make up for a disappointing offensive effort in which he struggled against the fronting defense of smaller Warriors players, mostly Jackson and Matt Barnes.
"They were double- and triple-teaming me," Boozer said. "So I told my guys, 'Look, you all just take the shots and I'll go offensive rebound.'"
"That's what killed us. You can't win when you give somebody 20 rebounds," Barnes said. "That's the one bad thing about playing smallball ... I'm 215, he's 260. I've just got to work harder to keep him off the glass."
But the nice thing about a Game 1 like this is that we still have the possibility of six more to come. Which means tonight was as much about what it portends for the rest of the series as it was about the result. Both teams will have plenty of work to do as they prepare for Wednesday's Game 2.
And there are almost too many juicy subplots to keep track of:
• Can the Jazz keep running with the Warriors like they did in the first half? "What we want to do is play an up-tempo style when we can and then slow it down also," said Harpring, who chipped in 21 points. "I think to win this series you got to have a combination of both."
• Can Davis keep playing at a high level despite his nagging hamstring injury? And if so, can Williams continue to post more majestic performances that he did tonight? "I don't know how healthy he is or if he's 100 percent, but I'm going to attack him regardless," Williams said.
• Can Golden State really keep the ball out of Boozer's hands in the post every night? "They took a lot away from us with the way they played our big people," Sloan said.
• Can Utah continue to win if guard Derek Fisher, who missed tonight's game due to undisclosed personal reasons, isn't back for Game 2? Tonight Dee Brown, Gordan Giricek and Harpring all took turns at the position, with Brown (six points, three assists in 12 minutes) playing surprisingly well after being a non-factor in the regular season.
All told then, the real battle is just beginning. When both coaches come out of the film room and devise their tactics for Wednesday's Game 2, we could see a completely different game at the raucous Energy Solutions Arena.
"We'll have to go back to the blackboard and reassess what we need to do," said Nelson, while Sloan offered that, "I'm sure they'll come at us with both barrels again. We still have to deal with their quickness."
Stay tuned, because if Round 2 is anything like Round 1, this fight will be well worth watching.
• Talk back to the Daily Dime gang
Harry How/ Getty Images
Deron Williams (31 points, eight assists) and Baron Davis (24 points, seven assists) dueled fiercely at the point in Game 1.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- A little history lesson for those who may have forgotten: The Pistons were up 2-0 in the second round a year ago, then lost their next three games.
A little reality check is in order, too, to rebut the idea that this year might be the same: The Cleveland Cavaliers had a little something to feel positive about when they were in that hole, having come back in the second half of Game 2 to give themselves a little bit of positive mental momentum to take into Game 3.
Can't say the same about the Chicago Bulls, who need to be checked for a pulse.
Former 76ers coach Jim O'Brien on the way a coach like Jeff Van Gundy might feel at season's end:
Where do you go for your next competitive fix? Do you go home and engage your family in a game of Scrabble or meet some buddies for a game of gin? I don't think that will quite feed what you need. How about golf? Try hitting any shot in golf when you have a stranglehold on the club. The only time golf is helpful is if you take a bucket of about 1,000 balls to the end of the range where you can be by yourself and grip those clubs as hard as you can and hit poor shots until your hands bleed.
The point is Van Gundy should not make a decision on his future at this point of time. He should back off for at least six weeks and try to relax.
Harry How/Getty Images
Carlos Boozer (17 points, 20 rebounds) gave Utah an inside edge in its 116-112 Game 1 win over Golden State.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
I'm not saying Dirk Nowitzki didn't melt like a creamsicle on a charcoal grill against the Warriors -- he did -- but his supporting cast leaves something to be desired. Where's his Top 50 teammate? His true point guard? His low-post scorer?
And I'm not saying that Tracy McGrady shouldn't take some heat, but basketball is a five-player game, not a two-player game. And Utah's five of Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko and Derek Fisher is better than Houston's five of T-Mac, Yao, Shane Battier, Rafer Alston and Chuck Hayes.
But the fact that Dirk and T-Mac need other all-NBA caliber players next to them to win a title only makes them like most superstars -- in fact, just about all superstars -- not named MJ (Rick Barry led Golden State to a title in 1975 without a lot of help, but the Warriors were nowhere near being a dynasty).
With Dallas out of the picture and the Spurs already seizing home-court advantage from the Suns, San Antonio has to be considered an overwhelming favorite right now to win the championship. Consider this: The Spurs played the No. 2 team on this list, Golden State, twice after Baron Davis came back in March. Keep in mind the Warriors are 18-4 in their other games with Davis since then. But against the Spurs they lost twice by a combined total of 50 points.
Not that I needed any convincing after watching the Spurs methodically rip the heart out of a very good Denver team last week, but the numbers back up what I've been thinking since training camp tipped off -- this is San Antonio's tournament to lose. And thus far, the Spurs don't seem inclined to lose it.
Mike D (Atlanta): Could Matt Barnes be the answer to the question "Who get the biggest pay raise as a result of this year's playoffs?"
John Hollinger: Ding! ding! ding! I think we have a winner. Although Luol Deng is also earning some serious ducats for his extension this summer.
John Hollinger: All kinds of crazy speculation coming out of Big D these days. Avery can look at Billups all he wants, but he isn't getting him unless the Pistons agree to a sign-and-trade. Good luck with that. As far as Terry goes, he seems the most likely core player to have a new address next year, since Harris can take over at the point. But moving his contract complicates things.
Nick (NYC): If the Warriors and Suns make it to the Western Conference finals, I'm going to DVR every game, and possibly never delete them.
John Hollinger: I think David Stern is cheering wildly for this outcome, as are all of the league's fans outside San Antonio and Salt Lake City. Would be among the most entertaining playoff series ever ... alas, we'll probably never see it.