The Warriors smelled trouble from the moment they left Los Angeles for their overnight flight to Salt Lake City, where on Thursday night, precisely 20 hours after they disposed of the Clippers in LA, they would face the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz announced Wednesday that four players – including three starters – would be out with injuries.
Trap Game, eh? It’s not a cliché, not in today’s NBA, where the schedule is both unforgiving and remorseless.
And then on Thursday morning the Warriors received information that a fourth Utah starter, leading scorer Gordon Hayward, also would not be available.
With one healthy Jazz starter greeting the hottest team in the league, the Warriors caught a slight whiff of Eau de Upset. Acutely aware they were facing a severely shorthanded squad the Warriors swallowed hard and went immediately for the blowout.
They failed. Though they would win their 16th of 17 games and run their record to 20-3 by silencing the Jazz, 106-99, the Warriors also got a reminder that severely patchwork teams tend to bring the fight.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Stephen Curry told reporters at Vivint Smart Home Arena, “but got a win.”
Oh, it was beautiful early. The Warriors running and gunning and smothering Utah, taking a 29-5 lead barely eight minutes into the game and holding a 65-46 advantage at the half. They were achieving their goal of quickly opening this gift of a game to allow their starters to watch most of the second half.
Rarely is it that easy under these circumstances, and this would not be an exception. When patchwork NBA teams accept that winning is not an option, they set about avoiding embarrassment.
With a 12-0 run in the middle of the third quarter, the Jazz cut the deficit to nine (73-64), and when the Warriors steadied themselves to go up 14 (80-66) with 2:45 left in the third, the Jazz fashioned a 13-4 run to narrow it to 84-79.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr blamed it on a “lack of focus,” which is a symptom of presuming victory.
“Our first quarter was great; we pushed the ball. Our defensive intensity was fantastic and then we let down,” Kerr said. “We started turning it over with some careless, purposeless plays. We didn’t really have an idea of what we were trying to accomplish and then some defensive mistakes like not getting out on their shooters, and they took advantage.”
Outscoring the Warriors 53-41 in the second half, the Jazz – playing without Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood and George Hill – made the vastly superior team sweat.
“They obviously played with a lot of energy,” said Curry, who scored a game-high 26 points. “They didn’t fold and we got a little stagnant on offense, 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.”
Kevin Durant ensured there would be no upset, performing the closeout with an 11-point fourth quarter. He scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half.
“Just tried to be aggressive,” Durant said. “I didn’t do a good job attacking throughout the game. I thought that was a good opportunity for me to attack. I got to the free throw line and that got me going. I got some dunks, a few cuts and Steph [Curry] helped me out as well.
“It was a weird game. It was a grind out game. We started off so well and then a three-pointer got them back in the game. They played physical later on the game and were able to take us out of our game a little bit, but we kept fighting and we got a good win on a back-to-back.”
In defeating the Jazz, the Warriors also held off two more formidable foes: fatigue and complacency. There are nights, and this was one of them, when the path to victory requires beating all three.
SALT LAKE CITY — The Golden State Warriors needed less than nine minutes to open a 24-point lead over the short-handed Utah Jazz on Thursday night.
Stephen Curry scored 26 points and the Warriors controlled the Jazz from start to finish in a 106-99 victory.
Curry had 14 points during a 29-1 run that made it 29-5. The Jazz's only lead of the game was 4-2.
"Loss of focus," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said about the second half. "Our first quarter was great, we pushed the ball and our defensive intensity was fantastic. I think we let down. We started turning it over some careless, purposeless plays.
"We didn't really have an idea of what we were trying to accomplish. Some defensive mistakes not getting out on shooters and they took advantage."
Kevin Durant added 21 points and 11 rebounds for Golden State.
Jazz center Rudy Gobert had 20 points and 17 rebounds, Joe Ingles scored a career-high 21 points, and Shelvin Mack added a season-high 19.
The Jazz have four starters sidelined by injuries, including their top three scorers.
"I didn't do a good job of attacking throughout the game and I thought that was a good opportunity for me to attack," Durant said about the fourth quarter.
Golden State led 65-46 at halftime as the second unit allowed the Jazz to hang around and, technically, remain within striking distance. The urgency from the first quarter disappeared in the second half and the Jazz crept within five in the fourth quarter thanks to buckets from Mack and Ingles, but Durant closed the game with 11 in the final period.
"What we've discussed is just roles," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said about surviving the injuries. "They can morph. They widen, they can narrow, they can do anything. Hopefully, on a team, guys are willing to evolve and adjust to what the team needs. That's really all we emphasized."
Warriors: Rookie Patrick McCaw scored a career-high 10 points, all in the first half. ... Shaun Livingston took the night off to rest. ... Draymond Green was two assists shy of his 15th career triple-double. ... Green tweaked his ankle, but he and Kerr didn't seem overly concerned.
Jazz: Utah started the combination of Joe Johnson, Mack, Dante Exum, Gobert and Boris Diaw for the first time this season. ... Ingles hit a career-high five 3-pointers.
The Jazz were without four starters — Gordon Hayward (finger), Rodney Hood (hamstring), George Hill (toe) and Derrick Favors (knee). Utah has been dealing with injuries all season, but Thursday was their most depleted lineup to date.
"It's easy to be frustrated," Snyder said. "That's something you have to just fight against and make a decision to do the best with where we are.
"It's a credit to our guys really. We've got a group that has character. Over a longer period of time it becomes more challenging. ... Hopefully, there's a silver lining. We've got some guys that are getting minutes that may not be getting otherwise."
"This team, my first year was kind of a surprise and everybody seemed to love us. Now maybe it's changed a little bit. It honestly makes no difference to us." — Kerr.
Snyder said roles morph, but Joe Johnson added that shouldn't be a difficult thing night-to-night.
"This is our profession, man," Johnson said. "This is what we signed up for. This is what we do. When you're number's called, you've got to be ready regardless of the circumstances."
Warriors: Golden State travels to face the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday in the third game of a five-game trip.
Jazz: Utah hosts a Sacramento Kings team on Saturday that has lost eight of 12 on the road.