Barely more than a year after the “Nightlife” series, the Golden State Warriors have become lovable in Utah.
They can thank Houston for that upgrade.
The Rockets did not exactly create a great impression around here in the Western Conference semifinals. James Harden and Chris Paul have replaced Golden State’s Draymond Green and Kevin Durant as the most disliked Jazz playoff opponents in recent history. Somehow, the Warriors have become the more tolerable team in the West finals, from the perspective of Jazz fans.
That’s saying something. Ordinarily in pro sports, fans’ default position is to cheer for the team that beat their team in the playoffs. There’s consolation in saying you lost to the eventual champion.
Other reasons may exist for hoping the Rockets win the NBA title, including a ring for ex-Jazz forward Joe Johnson, variety in the NBA Finals after Golden State’s domination and a denting of the Super Team concept in the league.
Yet the Rockets sure made themselves difficult to embrace in their series with the Jazz. The recency factor gives the Warriors an advantage, in that sense. They’re the guys who lost badly to the Jazz in the last three meetings of the 2017-18, although usually in a depleted state.
The Rockets were overwhelming at times during the five-game series with the Jazz, whose fans have to acknowledge Houston’s talent. Even so, the Rockets’ style of play — especially Harden’s incessant dribbling in isolation and knack for drawing fouls — removed a lot of the joy of watching them.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder graciously used “artistry” to describe Harden’s game. Yeah, that’s not the word that comes to the minds of Jazz fans, who understandably got tired of Harden’s trips to the free-throw line (8.6 attempts per game in the series) and Paul’s whining.
The Warriors are not fully embraceable themselves, even aside from players such as Andre Iguodala complaining about Salt Lake City’s lack of “nightlife” during the 2017 playoffs. The Jazz organization responded good-naturedly with “#Nightlife” T-shirts and Utahns generally absorbed the derision in a healthy way, as Golden State completed a sweep of the semifinal series.
Golden State’s offense is just easier to appreciate than Houston’s; that’s the difference here. The Warriors’ flowing system resembles the approaches of San Antonio and the Jazz, with the ball being moved and shared. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are simply more enjoyable to watch than Harden and Paul, even though anyone would have to commend the Rockets’ scoring ability.
Paul was brilliant against the Jazz, just as he was in the Los Angeles Clippers’ seven-game series with Utah last year. He just didn’t create any admirers by complaining about every call, much the same way as Harden’s flopping offensively in an effort to sway the officials is a turnoff to fans.
Add it up, and it becomes clear why some Jazz fans have tuned out what’s left of the NBA playoffs.
They will miss some good stuff, though.
Amid all of the reasons to cheer against Houston or Golden State, the reality is that these are far and away the two best teams in the league, and this will be a very good series as the competition resumes with Sunday’s Game 3 in Oakland. The NBA Finals will feel anticlimactic after this matchup, whether the East’s contestant is LeBron James’ Cavaliers or Brad Stevens’ Celtics.
The other element of motivation for Utahns to stay tuned is to try to gauge what the Jazz need in their effort to catch up to Houston and Golden State in the West. The obvious answer is more talent — including the kind of players that make opposing fans tired of watching them.