OAKLAND, Calif. — If you didn't know better, you would've had a hard time telling which team was the defending NBA champion with 54 wins and which one was fighting for its playoff life simply based on Sunday’s Jazz-Warriors game.
Golden State’s players wore Warriors blue uniforms with gold and white trim and the game was held in Oracle Arena, but other than that, these Dubs bore very little resemblance to the star-studded champions of yore in a 110-91 drubbing by the Utah Jazz.
Stephen Curry (left MCL sprain), Kevin Durant (right rib soreness), Draymond Green (flu-like symptoms) and Klay Thompson (fractured right thumb) are still on the roster; they just didn't play in this one. Because of injuries and illness to their fearsome foursome, the Warriors were forced to go with a starting lineup of Quinn Cook, Nick Young, Patrick McCaw, Kevon Looney and JaVale McGee.
Not surprisingly, the squad that includes the likes of Jonas Jerebko, Royce O'Neale, Ekpe Udoh, Georges Niang and David Stockton — yes, Nada's son — surged to the much-needed victory.
"It's tough being without players," McCaw said.
The Jazz, who've had more than their fair share of injuries over recent seasons, weren't in a merciful mood, either — at least not after giving up an early nine-point lead to the Warriors Light squad. There's too much on the line right now to squander an opportunity like this for Utah, which improved to 42-32 and improved its chances of making the playoffs.
"We didn't come out great, I guess, to start the game," Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell said of his team, which missed eight of its first nine shots. "They came out a little more aggressive."
That changed in a big way, though.
And it certainly helped that the Jazz had all of their top players. Mitchell scored 21 points with six assists, standout center Rudy Gobert compiled 17 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks, Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder each chipped in 14 points, and Derrick Favors added 10 points and eight boards.
In addition to all of those nice tallies, the most encouraging performance came from backup point guard Dante Exum. The fourth-year Aussie played his best game in a long time, sparking the Jazz comeback with 13 points and five assists.
Exum looked as good as he had since tearing it up at summer league before his second major injury in three years.
"I'm just trying to bring energy. I think we came out a bit flat," Exum said. "Coming off the bench was just like, 'Bring that energy.'"
Exum's energy helped the Jazz go from being outscored 22-18 in the first quarter to turning things around in the second quarter (35-25) and third quarter (36-18).
"I thought we were more sound defensively. I thought we raised our level on offense a little bit. We were more decisive," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "They're a hard team to play against. Obviously, without their guys, they're still quick. They do a lot of switching, and that's always something that we have to try to adjust to. They were competitive."
Veteran Andre Iguodala gave the Warriors (54-19) a 19-10 lead with a pull-up 3-pointer with 2:33 remaining in the first quarter. Utah had looked sluggish up to that point, but Crowder responded with a three and Gobert followed with a dunk to help shift momentum.
In the second quarter, Exum sparked a 9-0 run with a driving finger roll layup and then followed an Ingles 3-pointer with a deep shot of his own. Exum and Crowder each scored seven points in that pivotal second quarter.
The Jazz starters dominated the beginning of the third quarter, outscoring the Warriors' understudies 18-3 in the first four-plus minutes to build a 21-point lead. Utah then closed out the home team to finish this road trip 2-1 and bounce back from Friday's heartbreaking overtime loss at San Antonio.
Going back to January's 129-99 home win over Golden State, the Jazz have now outscored the Warriors by 49 points in two games.
"Well, I thought we hung in there pretty well," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "We got off to a good start and really defended well in the first half. We just didn't have enough firepower, but I liked the way we fought and played."
Up next for the Jazz: A Wednesday showdown vs. Boston, which will be missing stars Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving because of injuries.