In their first matchup with the Jazz since sweeping them 4-0 in the 2017 Western Conference Semifinals, the Warriors continued their dominance over Utah.
With a withering injury list, Golden State (28-7) entered the game short a single man — albeit two-time MVP Stephen Curry, who has not played since spraining his ankle in early December. Center Zaza Pachulia saw his first start in over two weeks after sustaining a left shoulder injury.
The game started out less than miraculously for Golden State, which fell behind the seemingly outmatched Jazz (15-21) in the first half. But the Warriors fought their way back.
With Klay Thompson silenced to the tune of just four points in the first half, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green lead the scoring charge with 10 points apiece. Rookie Jordan Bell played his part with seven rebounds. Their collective efforts allowed the Warriors to drive into halftime with a slim one-point advantage, 48-47.
Though head coach Steve Kerr jokingly attributed to the change of game in the second half to his “unbelievable halftime speech,” Durant said he saw the first half as a tactic to tire out the Jazz with Warriors-style play:
“We just started playing with force in the second half. We also knew those guys would start to tire out a little bit. Once we started being forceful with our cuts and our movements we started to tire them down a little bit and you start to see them loosen up on the defensive end.”
The second half looked like a completely differently ballgame, one that saw the Warriors nearly double their first half points in the third quarter alone, a feat that had the Oracle Arena crowd going wild. Golden State closed out the third 90-69, with Thompson emerging, shooting 3-for-3 and putting 8 points up in the first six minutes of the third quarter. Once the Warriors got hot, there was no smothering the flames as they went full steam ahead closing out the Jazz with Durant leading in points (21), Bell in rebounds (13) and Green in assists (8) — though Bell and Andre Iguodala dished out seven of their own each.
Green came just shy another triple-double — finishing with 14 points and eight rebounds in his 25 minutes of play — after his first of the season against the Cavaliers on Monday, a notable feat for most in the NBA, but Durant said that should be no surprise coming from Green:
“At this point, Draymond getting 14, 8 and 8 is just like, there is no need for us to talk about it no more. That’s just what he’s supposed to do and he comes with it every single night.”
What Durant did find surprising was Patrick McCaw‘s performance.
McCaw, who seemed less hesitant than he has been in recent games, finished 18 points and four rebounds in just 20 minutes to lead a Warrior bench that contributed 63 points — or half of the home team’s scoring. Durant said McCaw picked up the pace against Cleveland and only gained momentum from there:
“These last few games a lot of teams have been daring him to shoot and leaving him open at the wing and haven’t really guarded him. We told him last game, just be aggressive. So he drove a couple times last game, put the pressure on the defense and tonight he just took it to another level. Once he started doing that we exploded.”
McCaw showed signs of his spark in the first quarter, putting some of the first Warriors points on the board, attacking the rim and drawing fouls, an unusual style of play for the second-year guard who, Kerr said, usually sticks to what he knows as a defender and less of a scorer:
“He’s a young player so he is going to be up and down. Scoring is sort of third or fourth on his list. He’s a defender primarily, in his own mind, and a distributor. Scoring is sort of a secondary thought for him. We are trying to get him as aggressive as possible. He plays his best when he is looking to score like he did tonight.”
It is difficult to find a place to score on a team loaded with some of the top scorers in the NBA, but with Curry out and Kerr continually rotating McCaw and Nick Young, giving McCaw more of the benefit of the doubt in his familiarity with the Warriors style of play, McCaw has been given the opportunity to find who he is as a more well-rounded player. He admitted the difficulty in shooting over passing on a team where the pass is the obvious choice, but McCaw said he is slowly finding his way:
“I think it’s more of a thought process for me being a young guy. You know I haven’t really established myself in this league and these guys are prolific scorers, all stars, super stars. To have the opportunity to be able to play with them and just find my niche within this team I think it’s been the biggest step for me.”
The Warriors with a practically fully loaded roster proved that if a team gives them an inch, they will take a mile, but with Curry’s return imminent the question is, will McCaw be able to continue to play as aggressive instead of reverting back to a defender and persistent passer. Green says the key for McCaw in the remainder of the season is to continue to be more aggressive and not hesitate to shoot, whether Curry is back in the game or not:
“Just continuing to be more and more aggressive, we always tell (Patrick) be aggressive. Sometimes he’s a little too relaxed, and passes up shots and we need him to score, we need him to attack the rim the way he does. He’s continuing to get better. He’s been pretty special on the defensive side of the ball. He puts so much pressure on the ball, it’s hard to cross over him.”
With the continuous help of his teammates and motivational leaders like Durant and Green, McCaw should be just fine. He said it has been the support and push from his teammates who he looks up to that has has helped him become a better player in the league and to shine the way he did Wednesday:
“The past few games a lot of the guys have just been in my ear telling me just to be aggressive, go out there and have fun. That kind of sticks when you have guys like Andre (Iguodala) and Steph, KD and Draymond telling you to go out there and play your game. For me that’s been a huge tribute to those guys”
Omri Casspi, who had 10 points and four rebounds, exited the game limping near the end of the fourth quarter after rolling his right ankle.