NBA

Jazz need Hayward to close the gap in match-up with Durant

Jay Asser 2/05/2017
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Poised for success: Gordon Hayward. Picture: Getty Images.

Gordon Hayward’s star has been on the rise for a while now, but with the often-overlooked Utah Jazz now in the playoffs, the swingman has a stage to show just how good he is.

Is Hayward good enough to give the Jazz any hope of upsetting the Golden State Warriors though? That’s the tall order facing the 27-year-old as Utah begin their second round series against the overwhelming title favourites tonight.

Hayward was fantastic in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers and flashed an efficient offensive game, averaging 23.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 46.9 per cent shooting, including 44.7 per cent from long range.

The Warriors, of course, are at a different level than the Clippers defensively and have given Hayward plenty of trouble recently. In his lone appearance against Golden State this season, Hayward managed just 6 points on 2-of-10 shooting. One game hardly makes a sufficient sample size, but even looking at Utah’s four meetings with the Warriors last season, Hayward shot just 33.3 per cent to average 17.3 points.

Much of those struggles, however, have been of Hayward’s own doing, with him converting 14-of-45 (31.1 per cent) uncontested shots in his past five games against Golden States. For comparison, Hayward shot 43.9 per cent on uncontested looks in 2015-16 and 49.4 per cent this season.

Aside from making open shots, Hayward will have his work cut out off the ball to find those clean looks as Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala are expected to shadow him. Both players are long, rangy and athletic enough to make life difficult for any offence’s top option, but Hayward will at least be somewhat prepared after dealing with a similar body type and defender in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in the previous round.

The Warriors would prefer not to use Durant on Hayward full-time to allow their own time to conserve his energy for offence. But when the two are matched up, Hayward has to make Durant work by running him through a maze of screens (granted it doesn’t draw a switch) and do his best to attack him with the ball without settling for tough shots. It’s a lot to put to Hayward’s shoulders, without even mentioning the test he’s in for on the other end when the match-up pits Durant on offence.

VERDICT

There’s no question the Warriors hold advantages at nearly every position against Utah, but if Hayward can play the duel with Durant closer to a draw than an outright loss, the Jazz have the potential to steal a game or even two.

Winning the series? That’s a whole different matter.

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Thomas' 33 too much for Wizards as they falter in game one

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The Boston Celtics beat the Washington Wizards 123-111 to take a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals after making 19 3-pointers to tie a franchise playoff record.

The Celtics overcame a sluggish start as they trailed the Wizards 16-0 early in game one. The Wizards were able to jump out to an early lead only to see it dwindle as the Celtics made their run.

Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points and nine assists while the team tied a franchise playoff record making 19 three-pointers. Even through the adversity of a knocked out tooth, Thomas was able to make shots and prove his toughness throughout.

Al Horford had a huge impact on the game scoring 21 points, collecting 10 rebounds and dishing out nine assists in a near triple-double for the Celtics big man. The Wizards defense also had no answer for Jae Crowder, who scored a career playoff-high 24 points.

Washington played well through three-quarters of basketball but failed to defend perimeter shots throughout the game. The Celtics were pouring down 3’s and the Wizards defense could not weather the storm late in the fourth quarter.

Bradley Beal led the way for Washington with 27 points, John Wall added 20 points and 16 assists. Marcin Gortat had a solid outing with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Markief Morris had to leave the game due to a sprained left ankle in the second quarter. He only played 11 minutes.

VERDICT

Even though Boston had a great performance from beyond the arc, hitting 19 3-pointers is an aberration for this team. If the Wizards want to steal the next game on the road, they must defend the perimeter shooters more effectively. Thomas was picking their defense apart by penetrating and kicking the ball out to open shooters.

Adjustments will be made by both teams heading into game two but the Wizards need this game to swing home-court advantage in their favor. On the other hand, Boston will look to keep their shooting hot streak going and head to Washington with a 2-0 lead.

INJURY UPDATE

Power forward Morris is expected to play for the Wizards on Tuesday night despite his injury. The team is also missing their backup center Ian Mahinmi due to an injury he incurred in the previous series against the Chicago Bulls. His status is day-to-day.

Game two of the series is set for Tuesday night 3:00 AM (UAE) time.

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NBA Playoffs: Boston Celtics vs Washington Wizards

Laith Malhas 30/04/2017
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Two elite point guards, Isaiah Thomas and John Wall, will clash in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals tonight (UAE 09:00 pm) after both led their respective teams to an opening round playoff win in six games.

The teams split the season series 2-2 in what became a heated rivalry, due to flagrant fouls and a constant barrage of trash talk, which was typified by Wall and Jae Crowder’s altercation at the end of a game in January. The boiling tension over the past year has resulted in a chippy rivalry but simmering beneath the surface is an intriguing clash. While both teams have solid players who will contribute, undoubtedly progression will rest on the shoulders of Wall or Thomas.

Both point guards lead the offensive tempo, they also carry the responsibility of getting their teammate’s open shots. But there’s a case to be made that Wall has more pieces around him and while he was struggling in the season series against the Celtics, averaging a season-low 17.8 PPG, Bradley Beal was able to step up and make an impact as he averaged 28.3 PPG  in the last three games against the Celtics and shot 50 percent from downtown.

Wall also struggled from the field against the Celtics, managing 37.3 percent and 15.4 percent from beyond the arc. But the tandem of Wall and Beal in the backcourt could prove to be a handful for the Celtics defense in a playoff series due to their volume scoring and clutch play in the fourth quarter. The dynamic duo combined for 73 points in the clinching game six of their series against the Atlanta Hawks.

On the Celtics side, Thomas was a nightmare for Washingtons defense, averaging 27.8 PPG and creating offense for his teammates. However, he was not performing well on defense against the Wizards with the team’s defensive efficiency at 106.7 without Isaiah and 113 when he was on the court. Washington also shot a better three-point percentage when Thomas was on defense at 38.5 percent.

The playoffs will bring out a higher level of intensity between the two and, in particular, Wall and Thomas, who lead their teams in points. However, it could come down to the battle of the boards and defense will be the difference-maker if both point guards are playing to their optimum.

Marcin Gortat is the leading rebounder and shot blocker for the Wizards, while Al Horford holds down the fort for the Celtics in the post. Avery Bradley and Crowder will be the X-Factors for Boston and their contributions will also be crucial.

VERDICT

Ultimately, Washington have a better all-around team, led by Wall who has hit his stride in the playoffs averaging 30 PPG and 10 APG. The Celtics supporting cast are slightly less productive than their counterparts in Washington and they have deficiencies on defense.

Taking that all into account, we’re predicting the Wizards will steal a game on the road and close out the series in six.

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