OAKLAND — The Utah Jazz got what they needed desperately: Their two best players proved their worth on the offensive end of the floor.
But it didn’t matter, not against these Golden State Warriors. Especially not when they’re playing at home.
Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert did on Thursday what they couldn’t on Tuesday. After shooting an abysmal 4-for-15 in the series opener, Hayward scored 33 points on an efficient 21 attempts. Gobert showed why he’s the ultra-deluxe version of JaVale McGee by scoring 16 points — all inside the restricted area — and grabbing 16 rebounds while being a towering presence in the paint on defense.
But it didn’t matter.
“It’s definitely draining,” Hayward admitted.
Even as Golden State’s offense went through a couple swoons. Even as it reversed course and turned the ball over 17 times, about 71 percent of their total over the last three games. Even as Draymond Green, the Warriors’ most valuable player in the postseason, briefly went down with a tweaked left knee — sucking the air out of Oracle Arena for a five-minute period.
The Jazz couldn’t do enough to keep the game competitive. It wasn’t a blowout, like what the Warriors regularly did in the regular season — “This is the playoffs,” Curry reminded — but through two games, Utah has yet to hold a lead in the series.
“We want to try to be ahead at the end [of the game],” Utah head coach Quin Snyder said, “and against these guys, if you don’t start well, you’re climbing an uphill battle.”
Seriously challenging the Warriors in this series is going to be nearly impossible for the Jazz. And it’s because of the reasons so many NBA fans were upset on July 4: Kevin Durant makes this team’s offense depression-proof.
This point was perfectly exhibited in the third quarter, with eight-and-a-half minutes remaining and Utah having recently trimmed the lead to less than 10 points. Durant grabbed a defensive board, raced down the floor and dunked. Thirty seconds later, he was catching a pass from Andre Iguodala and again finishing in transition.
His ability to change the game by converting easy baskets without needing the ball in his hands, combined with his propensity to make 13 free throws — like he did in Game 2 — makes an already otherworldly offense reach the next level.
The Warriors wouldn’t admit they haven’t faced a real test yet. They’d never disparage an opponent in the middle of a series like that.
“It wasn’t easy,” acting head coach Mike Brown said. “We felt it. We know we can play better. We broke down in a lot of areas where we should have been better. But in the same breath, too, yes, we did some nice things.”
The dream of a four-four-four path to the NBA Finals could be in jeopardy if the Jazz are the beneficiaries of repeat performances from Hayward and Gobert in Salt Lake City.
Even if they do, the Warriors’ path to the Western Conference Finals remains clear.
MIKE BROWN JOKE OF THE DAY
On Big Baller Brand and their $500 shoes:
Mike Brown doesn’t want his children to be big or ballers, apparently. pic.twitter.com/mDwgfxXC27
— jacob c. palmer (@jacobc_palmer) May 5, 2017
Selfish attitude, if you ask me. I would hate for my children to not be big ballers.
Big Baller’s loose! If you can’t afford the ZO2’S, you’re NOT a BIG BALLER! 💰
— Lavar Ball (@Lavarbigballer) May 4, 2017