Utah played well Wednesday night, holding close to the Warriors through the half and well into the later portions of the game.
The fourth quarter was close enough that a Utah run could have developed into the second loss of the season for Golden State. The starters, though, prevailed over an inferior unit that caught fire at nearly all the right times.
With the 103-85 win, though, Golden State (27-1) secures the best winning percentage in league history (.964) heading into a Christmas Day clash with LeBron James and the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers.
Festus Ezeli had a night to remember, with some Dikembe Mutombo-like blocks, four total on the night, and Klay Thompson kept the offense going with a 50 percent clip from the arc, sending in 20 points, and providing ball security that others didn’t.
Interim head coach Luke Walton said:
“Playing against them, they like to use a lot of the shot clock, the pace is normally slower. But offensively we did feel that we could execute a little better. We had some good looks that didn’t go in, but we also felt like our execution was a little off. That’s going to happen from time to time.”
Walton added that there’s always rust following a four-day layoff, but that this felt like more of a letdown, and the coach holds no issues with the effort he saw.
Green finished the night with 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists, while Curry scored 16 points with nine assists and three steals.
Ezeli scored six points with five rebounds.
The difference may have been in points off turnovers, Golden State scored 26 in that category to Utah’s 7.
“There’s some things that we can get better at, I think there’s things we can shore up, like letting guys get their strong hand look. … I don’t think we got off to a slow start, we didn’t get off to a super fast start.”
On paper, the Jazz shouldn’t have been able to keep pace with Golden State regardless of an off night caused by fatigue or any other malady. Which begs an interesting question as the league inches closer to the trade deadline.
Is Utah truly a good team, or did the Warriors just not play as good of a game as it appeared?
A close look shows that it was a little of both. The Jazz, despite trailing for the bulk of Wednesday night, kept the score within single digits, and moved the ball well enough to keep Warriors defenders on their heels.
They also found a way to score via the foul stripe, knocking down 10 of 12 free throws, and also not allowing many second chance points. After three quarters, both teams notched 31 boards, 22 on defense for each, and neither shot well from long range.
Credit the surging Jazz defense, who played physical ball in the way that accounted for the only loss of the season for the dubs at the Bucks.
Those factors are playing a critical role in what has been going wrong for the Warriors, a nit picky way to analyze the 27-1 squad, but a fair critique nonetheless.
The dubs bench is plus-4, according to hoopsstats.com, the eighth-best in the league, with Utah coming in sixth at plus-5.2.
Golden State hasn’t matched up well with physical play, though they generally have enough firepower to overcome it. What’s most concerning is that Utah, while maybe much improved, isn’t the type of team that should give the Warriors trouble at all.
The concern, though, truly falls in the spectrum of hypotheticals. What if Thompson was out for 10 or 20 games? How about an injury to Ezeli? Or an extended absence of the team’s unsung hero, Draymond Green?
The Warriors would have a massive obstacle to overcome, and no evidence that they would be able to fulfill it, particularly late in the season — when injuries are more likely to occur.
It’s too early to expect the champs to make a move. It’s an odd thing to consider that the Warriors might make a splashy addition at the deadline.
But their squad has more holes than the record says. And that’s something that general manager Bob Myers might address when the trade flurry begins.