Analysis: Defending NBA champs put surprising, rebuilding Utah Jazz in their rightful place
Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combine to go 12 of 25 from 3-point range and the Golden State Warriors roll to a 129-118 victory
SAN FRANCISCO — Friday’s result at sold-out Chase Center showed that the NBA is back on its rightful axis, readjusted to its supposed rightful course after at least two teams became the biggest early season surprises, for different reasons.
After a subpar start, the defending champion Golden State Warriors are seemingly rolling again and playing like the best team in the league — at least on this night — and the Utah Jazz are suddenly looking like the rebuilding team they were supposed to be after trading away all of their top players in the offseason.
“Proud of the way our guys hung in. Tough shooting night, obviously. Twenty-five percent on 44 3-point attempts (11 of 44) puts a lot of pressure on you in the game, especially in transition. That is a lot of long rebounds that they are running out with.” — Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy
Steph Curry scored 33 points and Andrew Wiggins and Klay Thompson chipped in 20 apiece as the Warriors rolled past the never-day-die Jazz 129-118 in front of a crowd of 18,064 — the Warriors’ 440th straight sellout — on Friday night in San Francisco.
“Credit to the Warriors,” said Jazz coach Will Hardy. “They came out in the first quarter and really took the game there.”
Indeed they did, clicking like that team that beat the Celtics 4-2 in last year’s NBA Finals, finally. Golden State (10-10) is back to .500 and has won seven of its last 10 games. All is seemingly well again in the City by the Bay.
“That’s a good sign,” said coach Steve Kerr. “We’re trending upward, and it is starting to feel more — everything is starting to feel more settled and guys are finding roles and doing a good job.”
The Jazz (12-9) are heading in a different direction, after that unexpected start that had everybody calling them the most pleasant surprise in the league. It was Utah’s third-straight loss, and could be lengthened immediately as Utah plays at Phoenix on Saturday night.
“They played better than us, and a big game tomorrow,” Hardy said, succinctly.
But while Wednesday night’s home loss to the Detroit Pistons, 125-116, was incredibly disappointing for the Jazz, this one was not, and not just because they were trying to overcome the world champions and their hostile crowd and not an NBA also-ran.
Utah showed plenty of pluck, but in the end did not shoot well enough to win, Hardy said.
“Proud of the way our guys hung in. Tough shooting night, obviously,” said the first-year Jazz coach. “Twenty-five percent on 44 3-point attempts (11 of 44) puts a lot of pressure on you in the game, especially in transition. That is a lot of long rebounds that they are running out with.”
Utah shot 47.4% from the floor, not quite at Golden State’s 51.5%, but not bad. The difference came from beyond the arc.
With Curry going 6 of 13 from deep and Thompson 6 of 12, the Jazz had no chance with the bricks they were putting up on the other end, misfires that often exposed their poor transition defense.
“Overall, I am not happy with (the transition defense),” Hardy said. “But it is tough because of how many shots we missed from 3. Golden State is one of the best teams ever playing with numbers in transition, and they do such a great job of locating their shooters.”
When you have shooters like Curry, Thompson and Jordan Poole (7 of 15 for 19 points), that isn’t difficult.
“They are obviously extremely talented. I mean, just the way they move the ball, and the chemistry they have as a team, is apparent,” said the Jazz’s Walker Kessler. “Yeah, it was definitely an experience.”
The Jazz have been the feel-good story of the early season league-wide, but cracks are starting to widen. They have lost six of their last eight games, after getting off to that 10-3 start that had national pundits taking notice.
Hardy, who looks like a 30-year-old and has the wisdom of a 50-year-old, or beyond, said it is still all about keeping perspective and not letting one or two poor performances snowball into more.
“You know, how you play is more important than the individual result,” he said. “Obviously we want to win every game, but over the course of 82 games there is some variance, especially in shooting. And we are a team that shoots a lot of 3s, so there are going to be some nights where you just don’t make them, for whatever the reasons are. And so I think it is just about us as a team staying focused on the right things.”
There were plenty of positive things to build on, even though the Jazz were held to fewer than 120 points for the seventh time in their last eight games.
Lauri Markkanen stayed hot, going for 24 points on 9 of 17 shooting. Kelly Olynyk and Jordan Clarkson added 21 apiece. Nickeil Alexander-Walker played some outstanding defense and had six assists off the bench to go with eight points.
“I thought Nickeil was unbelievable,” Hardy said. “His defense, getting over screens, using his length, being disruptive, I really think that Nickeil is the player that turned the game for us and kept us in the game. … He really did a marvelous job keeping us in the game and sort of helping us get back to what we want to do.”
As Hardy rightfully pointed out, the Jazz played the champs evenly after the first quarter, in which the home team rolled out to a 37-23 lead and looked like it would cruise from there.
The Jazz had other ideas.
“I thought our guys re-centered themselves after the first quarter,” Hardy said. “We ended up winning quarters two, three and four, that chunk of time.”
But oh, that awful first quarter. The Jazz chose to live early by the 3-point shot, but nearly died by it instead. Utah missed 13 of its first 14 3-pointers — that’s 7.1% — and looked ready to pack it up and head to Phoenix. Game over? Not really. The Jazz never went away until the fourth quarter, another positive sign for Hardy’s growing team.
“Yeah, I mean shots that we usually (make) we missed tonight,” Clarkson said. “You know, I always say we still had a chance to win the game. … They did a good job of converting off missed shots, long rebounds and second-chance points.”
The Warriors had 27 second-chance points, thanks to 16 offensive rebounds.
“I think for the most part, especially on the offensive end, we played the way we wanted to play,” Hardy said. “But if we shoot 25% from 3, that puts a lot of pressure on you.”
Especially when the other guys are named Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.