Maybe casual fans looked past this game, but NBA fans know that facing a hot and defensive-minded Jazz team on the second night of a back-to-back may have been the toughest game the Warriors have the rest of the season.
It took a second-chance three from Klay Thompson — set up by a hustling rebound from Shaun Livingston — to force overtime. Once there the Warriors did what the Warriors do and outscored the Jazz comfortably for a 103-96 win.
Make that a come-from-behind win — one that showed how much this Warriors team wants that record 73-wins and to unseat the Jordan Bulls from the best record ever. Starting with if they weren’t chasing the record Steve Kerr would have rested Stephen Curry in this one. The Warriors had a lot of chances to just shrug this game off, but they didn’t — you can see the desire for the record.
This was a motivated Jazz team playing to their strengths — finally, Rudy Gobert in clutch minutes — and getting strong nights from Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood (but they really missed Derrick Favors down the stretch (right knee soreness kept him out of the second half). The Jazz looked every bit the up-and-coming team they are, and they took advantage of what Golden State gave them, turning the Warriors sloppy turnovers into easy buckets before the defense got set (when the Warriors set their defense it was strong most of the night).
But the Warriors just win these kinds of games.
There was fantastic defense from Draymond Green down the stretch (including blocking Shelvin Mack‘s attempt at a game winner in regulation), some ridiculous Stephen Curry threes on his way to 31 points, and Thompson’s game-tying shot. More than just the talent, what the Warriors do down the stretch is execute — even on a night Curry looked tired, Harrison Barnes couldn’t buy a three (1-of-8) and the Marreese Speights/Anderson Varejao platoon at center reminded everyone that the Warriors can’t lean on that duo much when the playoffs start. Those two missed shots on offense, but more importantly were torched in pick-and-roll coverage all night (Utah had a lot of success with a basic “horns” pick-and-roll set). The Warriors miss Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli a lot, it’s games like this where it really shows.
Still, the Warriors get the win as the Jazz learn lessons of execution. The hardest lesson may go to Joe Ingles — he ran out to challenge the first of Thompson’s game-tying three attempts, but then he ran right past him as if he would get a baseball outlet pass for an easy bucket. But if you’re up three the only thing that can beat you there is an offensive rebound three, and Thompson got a clean look while Ingles was nowhere near him.
The victory has the Warriors at 68-7, they need to go 5-2 the rest of the way to beat the Bulls record. That’s going to happen. The Warriors do play the Spurs a couple more times but expect Gregg Popovich to rest virtually everyone on that team you can name in one if not both of those games — and he’s not going to show his hand on any matchups or strategies he loves. Nor will Steve Kerr.
But before the Warriors get to a conference finals showdown with the Spurs they will need to get through two rounds of the playoffs. That could mean facing Utah, who as of now are tied with Houston for the 7/8 seeds in the West. After going against the size and defense that Utah brings, the Warriors would be happy not to see them in the first round.