CHASE CENTER — Throughout the regular season, the Warriors have shown flashes.
From two point wins over the Los Angeles Lakers to convincing victories against the Clippers, the Warriors have shown signs that they can be a playoff-caliber team this season. Unfortunately for the franchise, however, single games haven’t been enough to convince the masses.
Knocking off the No. 1 team in the Western conference may have helped the Warriors plea as Golden State snapped a four-game skid Sunday afternoon. Behind 32 points from the birthday-boy Stephen Curry and key minutes from several young Warriors players, Golden State toppled the Jazz, 131-119, to hand Utah its first loss coming out of the All-Star break.
“I think very satisfied was probably the word I would use,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after the win. “Very gratifying win. I just liked our intensity defensively from the start to the finish. That’s a great team, they’re tough to guard and I thought we stayed with it and stayed into them the entire night.”
The hallmark of Golden State’s season throughout 38 games has been avoiding streaks — of any kind. In fact, before it’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers Thursday night, the Warriors had not won or lost more than three consecutive games at any point during the year.
Sunday afternoon, however, staring at what would have been an unprecedented five-game losing streak, the Warriors were tasked with taking on the top-seeded team in the Western Conference in the Jazz.
Averaging the third-most points in the NBA this season, the Jazz had also won two more games than any other team in the NBA this year. In addition, the Jazz entered Sunday’s game with the second-best defensive rating in the NBA, allowing the fewest points per game of any team in the league (107.6).
Having seen glimpses of its potential via aforementioned wins against the Clippers, Lakers and even the Nuggets — all teams standing in playoff contention this year — Golden State was determined to not only snap its longest losing streak of the year, but also re-establish itself as a serious force in the West.
Utilizing a fast start from Curry, who scored 14 of his eventual 32 points in the first quarter, the Warriors blasted off to an 11-point advantage after the first 12 minutes of play. Holding the Jazz to just 40 percent shooting from the floor, the Warriors defensive presence was also apparent.
“With a team like Utah where they’re so used to their patterns and their spacing and getting the ball moving, we wanted to set the tone early,” Curry said. “Make them work, make them go one-on-one and take those challenges on… That gave us a chance and gave us life.”
Golden State’s defensive effort perhaps was revitalized after a very uncharacteristic outburst by Curry against the Clippers Thursday night. During a timeout late in the second half, the two-time MVP laid into his team, shouting at the bench to “get into the ball.”
Clearly, that sentiment was well-received as the Warriors held the Jazz to just 44 percent from the floor Sunday while also forcing 14 turnovers.
Beyond Golden State’s ability to stifle Utah’s offense, it was the Warriors’ sense of resiliency that allowed them to not only establish, but hold onto the lead it built as the game closed.
In what has been viewed as a risky move, Kerr elected to deploy a lineup consisting of rookies James Wiseman and Nico Manion along with second-year guard Jordan Poole midway through the fourth quarter.
As the Jazz whittled what was a double-digit lead at the end of the third quarter down to a single point with just eight minutes to play in the final frame, Kerr decided to stick with his young and inexperienced group.
“We kind of threw them in the deep end but we love their talent,” Kerr said. “We also really like the way they play together. They fit well together because of James’ threat as a dive man, diving to the rim. Both Jordan and Nico are great pick-and-roll players.”
The plan paid off as Golden State was able to regain its footing and push its advantage back to nine points within three minutes. Poole and Wiesman emerged as the aggressors in this push, finishing the game with 18 and 16 points, respectively.
For Poole, who spent the last month-and-a-half with the Golden State’s G-League affiliate the Santa Cruz Warriors, Sunday’s performance came as a revelation. Able to find an offensive rhythm, Golden State hopes he can become a key role player to be inserted into the franchise’s rotation.
“When he’s playing aggressive like he did tonight, like he’s been, he’s another scorer, another playmaker, another shooter,” Green said. “He has a great feel for the game and was good for us tonight.”
Finishing off Utah thanks that second unit’s performance, along with Curry’s 32 points — just one off of his age — Golden State got another glimpse at just how good they can be when its effort and talent are clicking together at the right time.
Having seen this earlier in the year at several stages, the goal now is to carry that momentum forward, especially with the Lakers coming to town, who dismantled the Warriors just before the All-Star break. And while the win may be “satisfying,” the Warriors don’t want to put too much stock into it.
“I told Draymond (Green), if this were college, I would walk into the locker room as the coach and everybody would dump water on me and we’d all scream and yell,” Kerr said. “But this is the NBA. We have another game tomorrow. There’s not too much energy expended knowing we have another game tomorrow.”