The Golden State Warriors experienced zero emotional let-down Thursday against the Utah Jazz after setting a fresh NBA mark for consecutive home wins two nights earlier.
Framed by a relatively quiet outing from Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, the NBA’s biggest shooting guard served up the game’s greatest impact. With 16 points in 16 minutes (6-for-10, 1-for-4 from three), Marreese Speights led the Warriors (57-6) to a 115-94 victory over the playoff hopeful Utah Jazz (29-35).
With 19 games remaining in the regular season, Wednesday’s win locked up home court for Golden State in the first round of the playoffs.
After the game, Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr spoke about the impact Speights had on the win:
“Mo was fantastic. What I love about Mo is that he always stays ready … Every time we go to him it seems like he delivers. He’s just a great pro and understands his role on our team and helps us win.”
Neither team seized control through the first 15 minutes of action. With the Warriors up by a single point, Kerr sent in Speights to replace Anderson Varejao. Six minutes later, the man known as “Mo Buckets” checked out to rousing applause, with seven points and his team up by the same number.
Speights gave credit for his success and confidence to the coaches:
“It feels good that coach gives me the opportunity to go out there with all the minutes I get. No matter if it’s 10 or 15 or five, he always allows me to play free.”
Utah continued to scrap, keeping the Warriors from claiming a double-digit advantage until Curry chased down a long rebound with time expiring in the half.
With less than a second remaining, the MVP hit from far outside of normal people range — 55 feet, give or take a few inches. And while his teammates were ready to celebrate the latest in miraculous shots from their leader, Steph sprinted to the locker room as if he had to make a phone call.
All-Star forward Draymond Green, whose hands were up in celebration well before the ball made contact with the lace, had thoughts for his nearest defender:
“That’s not a surprise anymore. As soon as he shot it I said, ‘watch out, Trey (Utah guard Trey Burke). Hold that, Trey.’ I knew it was going in.”
The Jazz seemed to be unaffected by the back-court bank shot, though all their fighting was for naught, as they would never again get to within nine of the NBA’s most-dominant team. And with time expiring in the third quarter, much like it was 12 minutes earlier, the Warriors took control of the ball with a pending inbound.
The Jazz, however, refused to play the fool as so many (including them) already had. With Curry tightly defended more than 60 feet from the hoop, Speights noticed a lone defender covering both Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa.
Firing what looked like a perfect fade from Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to wide receiver Amari Cooper, Speights led Barbosa to the rim from 25 yards away, just out of reach of the outstretched arm of Utah’s Trey Lyles. Barbosa made the grab, and converted the two-pointer as time expired.
Speights joked that it wasn’t that good of a pass, as it was actually intercepted:
“It was really supposed to go to Andre, but L.B. stole it. I knew that L.B. had a one-on-one. I was going to throw it anyway. It was a touchdown pass. I’m glad he caught it.”
The bucket granted Golden State an 18-point lead, and essentially sealed the win.
Supplementing Speights’ bench scoring was fellow “Dubstitute” Barbosa, who dropped 13 on 6-for-8 shooting (1-for-2 on threes). The game’s high scorer, though, was an efficient Klay Thompson, whose 23 came on 9-for-14 from the field and 5-for-8 from beyond the arc.
Curry, who suffered through a 4-for-12 shooting night (3-for-9 from deep), did post double-double number 12 on the season with 12 points and 10 assists, and extended his record for consecutive games with a 3-pointer made to 134. Green’s game-high plus-30 point differential came on the strength of 17 points with seven rebounds and five assists.
The Jazz were carried by 18 off the bench by Burke.
On Friday, the Warriors will look to continue their record 46-game home win streak when they face hometown product Damian Lillard and the Portland Trailblazers. In their last meeting, in Oregon, the current No. 6 seed in the West handed the Warriors by far their worst defeat of the season, claiming a 137-105 win in the first game after the All-Star break.