SALT LAKE CITY Starting strong is Golden State’s trademark in the postseason.The Warriors find ways to impose their will on offense and defense from the opening tip. They push the pace on offense, force turnovers on defense and bury opponents in a deep hole, forcing foes to spend the better part of four quarters trying to climb out.That certainly was the scenario Utah experienced once again when Golden State advanced to the Western Conference finals with a 121-95 victory over the Jazz on Monday night, completing a four-game sweep.The Warriors dominated Utah in every facet of the game during the opening quarter. Golden State outscored the Jazz 39-17 in the period while limiting Utah to 6-of-25 shooting (24 percent) from the field.Once the Warriors hit full speed, Utah could not do much of anything to derail that train. Golden State improved to 8-0 in the postseason after leading wire to wire against the Jazz.”Guys really came out focused,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green, who had a triple-double. “We knew what the game plan was and executed that game plan. Everybody was on a string, starting these games out. I think the most important thing, though, is we imposed our will on the game. We had the game at our pace.”Stephen Curry scored 30 points and Klay Thompson added 21 for Golden State. Kevin Durant added 18 points, and Green chipped in 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. JaVale McGee contributed 12 points.The Warriors shot 51.2 percent from the field — making 11 3-pointers — and dished out 28 assists on 43 total baskets.”We have a lot of talent,” Curry said. “We have guys that try to do it by committee. That’s our approach to every game. We never know who’s going to have a hot night. We try to move the ball, use each other to create open shots, and when we do that, the ball is hopping and a lot of good things happen.”The Warriors will face the winner of the San Antonio Spurs-Houston Rockets series after sweeping a conference semifinal for the first time since current NBA playoff format began in 1984.Gordon Hayward scored 25 points and Shelvin Mack added 18 for the Jazz. Dante Exum had 15 points off the bench, while Rudy Gobert chipped in 12 points and 13 rebounds.Utah never fully recovered after enduring another sluggish first quarter. The Jazz did take some solace in eclipsing 50 wins and winning a playoff series for the first time in several years despite enduring tons of injuries throughout the season.”We knew we kept getting better as a group,” Gobert said. “We kept believing in ourselves. We didn’t want it to end that way, but I’m excited about our future and the way this team’s getting better every year.”After trailing by double digits throughout much of the first half, Utah made Golden State sweat a bit during the third quarter. The Jazz closed within 68-63 after Mack drove for a floater.Durant answered with back-to-back baskets to push the lead back to double digits at 73-63.Utah hung around behind the efforts of Hayward and Mack, who combined for 23 points in the third quarter.Golden State pressed down on the gas pedal in the final minute of the third quarter. Curry and Andre Iguodala combined for back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Warriors up 93-79 heading into the fourth.Golden State held onto a double-digit lead throughout the final period.”They’re a historically great team,” Hayward said. “You have to be almost perfect on every possession or else they turn it into an 8-0 run, 9-0 run or 10-0 run, so you can’t have mental lapses against a team like this. It will be a great learning experience for us to realize this is what it takes. It can be one mental lapse and it turns the game, turns the momentum.”Golden State overwhelmed and outsmarted the Jazz on both ends of the court throughout the first quarter. The Warriors forced four turnovers, and they shot 12 of 21 from the floor and 12 of 12 from the foul line.Curry buried back-to-back 3-pointers and Green cut to the rim for a hammer dunk to fuel an 8-0 spurt that gave the Warriors a 12-3 lead. Green capped an ensuing 10-1 run with a 3-pointer that put Golden State ahead 24-7.The Warriors led by as many as 24 points in the first quarter after McGee threw down a dunk to put Golden State up 39-15.”One of the things we kept telling our guys is we didn’t want them to be comfortable offensively,” Warriors acting head coach Mike Brown said. “We wanted to get up into them and force the issue.”Utah used a 16-2 run to get back in the game early in the second quarter. Exum ignited the run with a finger-roll layup on the final Jazz possession of the first quarter. Exum then finished it off with another layup, helping Utah trim Golden State’s lead to 41-31.Utah also closed the half on 12-2 run highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers from Joe Ingles and Exum and cut the Warriors’ lead to 60-52 going into the locker room.But ultimately the Warriors were just too much. Each time the Jazz would get within 10 points, Golden State would crank up the tempo or stretch the floor or just let Curry/Durant take over for a few seconds.Just like Jazz’s hopes for winning this series, any sort of comeback would evaporate quickly.
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