SALT LAKE CITY — Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr was wary of playing a Utah Jazz squad that was without injured players Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors and Alec Burks.
“I think they will play very well,” Kerr said prior to Thursday’s tip-off. “They have nothing to lose with half of their roster out it seems like. … It almost makes the game tougher mentally. You can let your guard down. That’s what we have to be careful of.”
The Jazz’s next opponent might feel lucky if the Jazz have the same number of missing players for Saturday’s game.
For one thing, the Sacramento Kings are on the opposite end of the talent spectrum than the Warriors.
The Kings are also coming off of a game Friday night against the New York Knicks, and they’re dealing with the distraction of Matt Barnes possibly being arrested for allegedly choking a woman at a Chelsea nightclub earlier this week.
As for Thursday’s injury-marred matchup, Kerr was impressed that the Jazz made a game out of it, only losing 106-99 despite falling behind by 25 points in the first half.
“I give them a lot of credit. They’re a very well-coached team,” Kerr said. “They’re a tough team even with all of those guys out. They still have guys that can play. We let our guard down a little bit and they took advantage. We didn’t play our best, but we won and we move on.”
Stephen Curry concurred, giving the Jazz credit while admitting the Warriors hit cruise control after going on that massive 29-1 run.
“They obviously played with a lot of energy. They didn’t fold, and we got a little stagnant on offense,” Curry said. “It happens, but you just got to be able to finish the game out. The way we started gave us an opportunity to withstand their run and never really have the game out of hand.”
The Jazz did not practice on Friday. No official reason was given, but this is a team that needs time to rest and recuperate more than it needs fine-tuning at this point because of the vast amount of injuries. Utah also sent rookie power forward Joel Bolomboy to the SLC Stars on a D-League assignment so it only had nine healthy players available unless one of the five walking wounded guys is ready to return.
It’s still uncertain who, if any, of the injured Jazz players will be available against the Kings. Hayward is listed as probable and Hood is questionable for the Sacramento game, but Hill, Favors and Burks are out.
Judging the way the Jazz played against the Warriors, it’s a winnable game even if those five are sidelined again.
“We learned that when we play defense and are aggressive offensively we can play with anybody,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said after totaling 20 points and 17 rebounds. “I think we knew it already, but it is always good to have games like that.”
Snyder addressed the frustration surrounding the team’s disconcerting MASH-unit situation.
“It’s easy to be frustrated. That’s something I think you have to just fight against and make a decision to do the best with where we are,” Snyder said prior to Thursday’s game. “I think that’s been one of the reasons, even last year when we were without Derrick and Rudy for long stretches and then Alec, obviously, that we were kind of able to stay above water.”
The Jazz will just need guys like Gobert to play like he has been — and for usual reserves Joe Ingles (coming off of a career-high 21 points) and Shelvin Mack (coming off of a season-high 19 points) to continue contributing more than they’re normally expected to do.
“I think we’ve got a group that has character. Over a longer period of time, it becomes more challenging,” Snyder said. “If we’re giving up a lead in the fourth quarter and managing to win a game, that’s probably not a bad thing. We’d like to try to be consistent, trying to keep the defense solid. It’s harder to do that when guys are playing extended minutes, but hopefully there is a silver lining.”
That includes guys getting experience they otherwise wouldn’t be and to be in situations where they play surprisingly well like they did against the Warriors in the second half Thursday when Utah outscored Golden State 53-41.
“Obviously, they are a good team. They got off to a pretty good start. We are chasing uphill for the rest of the game,” Ingles said of the Warriors. “A lot of teams, I think, in this league would give up in that situation and move on to the next game.”
On this night, the Jazz weren’t one of those teams.
That seems to bode well for whenever — if ever — the team finally gets all of its pieces back in place.