Warriors Review: November 16 vs. Utah (102-88 Win)
The Utah Jazz used to be Hall-of-Famer John Stockton scrambling around in too-small shorts, finding the brawny frame of Hall-of-Famer Karl Malone for a near-automatic bucket as Hall-of-Famer Jerry Sloan emitted his legendary intensity from the sidelines.
And once the sun set on that duo, the Jazz rebuilt for about 38 seconds with talented young Deron Williams, Ivan Drago's kid brother Andrei Kirilenko, the walking can of Red Bull Matt Harpring (actually, not sure if I ever saw him walk anywhere...that guy could have played 48-minute quarters) and of course, the vexing Carlos Boozer.
This assortment of players never made it out of the Conference Finals, but they were good—they dispatched the 2007 Warriors from the playoffs right after said Warriors up-ended the defending conference champion (and No. 1 seeded) Mavericks in the first round—and remained a contender for several more years. Then Harpring's body, as well as Kirilenko's ego and the relationship between Williams and Sloan became damaged beyond repair. All four would depart Utah's roster by 2011, along with Boozer, ushering in another rebuild.
This one will take longer than 38 seconds and will be largely aided by the Warriors, who persuaded Utah to take on over $20 million in expiring contracts this year by attaching four draft picks to them—a stark reversal from tanking the final weeks of 2011-12 to prevent Utah from claiming their first-round pick that summer. (Note: after all the grief surrounding that owed draft pick, Utah wasted it on a stiff and dealt it to the T'wolves this summer. Marcus Williams' career can now officially rest in peace.)
As they do three or so times or so every year, the up, coming and by all appearances here Golden State Warriors clashed with what's left of the once-proud Jazz November 16. Probability-wise, there was no way the Dubs could lose this game. They've got as many as three potential All-Stars healthy and playing well, while the Jazz have...Richard Jefferson starting and playing 34 minutes. Now, I dig R.J. for off-court reasons, but this is a man who wasn't deemed worthy of 34 total minutes in the first five games of March last year as a Warrior.
Going further, Utah was winless away from home (1-9 overall), while GS was undefeated at home. Coincidentally, all those home triumphs came vs. teams wrapping up back-to-backs. Utah was wrapping up a back-to-back.
Golden State didn't play their very best ball, nor did Utah play their very worst. But for the fifth time in six tries. Mark Jackson's team went up on a home opponent by 20-plus points and ended the game playing the roster fillers. Golden State has played so much garbage time at Oracle this year, Oscar the Grouch should serve as mascot.
Stephen Curry didn't make a single trey, and yet Golden State won easily—a very encouraging sign for a club that lives and dies by long-distance air assaults. A more encouraging zero in Curry's stat column: turnovers. The dynamic guard was guilty of 18 well-publicized giveaways over two unpretty games during Week 1, but only 10 total (1.7 per game) since.
Curry repeatedly exposed the disconcertingly poor ability of Utah guards Alec Burks and later, Dionte Garrett to stay in front of him, attacking the rim with ease or feeding his buddies for easy baskets. Burks, only starting because No. 9 overall pick Trey Burke is out, found himself yanked fairly early in the first quarter by a fed-up Ty Corbin.
Golden State's underrated defense held Jefferson and Gordon Hayward without first-half field goals (Hayward did bury two separate technical foul shots); only Derrick Favors and Marvin "Don't Confuse Me With The Stiff That Cost The Warriors That Draft Pick" Williams did anything offensively for the Jazz—and for some mysterious reason Favors vanished for nearly an entire quarter, barely even touching the rock after recording eight of Utah's first 13 points.
Note to Corbin: when you have a hot hand, milk it like a spotted cow, especially when no other player is even lukewarm.
One cause for worry: the Warriors' perimeter defense, so lacking last season at times (see: vs. Houston Feb. 5, 2013; I'm not here to talk about the past), had held six of their past eight opponents under 33 percent on threes; five of those six didn't even crack 30. They are now in a stretch where three of four opponents have exceeded 39 percent—including the Jazz, who are not good beyond the arc (although one prime perimeter liability, Jamaal Tinsley, was pink-slipped last week.) Getting Toney Douglas back will assist in that department, and Draymond Green may find himself chasing some of these trigger-happy swingmen around before long.
Another cause for worry: backup big Jermaine O'Neal. This is almost always how it happens: player struggles, and just as he finds his niche, BAM! He's down with a non-contact knee and groin injury. It looked major, but the Warriors camp isn't revealing how long Ognjen Kuzmic will be the lone backup center on the roster. Already proven weak against big front lines, J.O.'s absence may impact Golden State deeper than his 15-game brawling suspension from the Pacers did in 2004-05—and he was an All-Star back then!
It should go without saying, but I'll do so anyway. On behalf of not just all Warrior fans, but NBA fans period: get well soon, Jermaine O'Neal.
Warriors Preview: November 18 at Utah (1-10, 1-4 at Home)
The following must happen for the 7-3 Warriors to pin another loss on Utah:
- Andrew Bogut must save his fouls for defending the rim. Half of Bogut's fouls in '13-14 are moving screens or silly reach-ins (some out near the arc!) Bogut is a superb interior defender—against Utah he stuffed two shots and directly changed at least four others—but not even Bill Russell could block shots and rebound from the bench. O'Neal won't be backing up Bogut anytime soon unless GS makes a phone call to Shaq so Bogut must, must keep himself on the floor.
- Curry must bury his treys. He was 0-for-5 against Utah in Oakland, but since his second year (2010-11) Curry has only gone consecutive games without at least one "splash" once (November 14-16, 2012), and he's buried eight of his past 16 three-point attempts at Energy Solutions Arena. But even if Curry remains cold from long distance, it's doubtful the Burks/Garrett tandem has uncovered the key to containing him in the past 48 hours—he can be pretty effective going to the hole.
- Marreese Speights must keep his long twos to a minimum. This is a player shooting 43 percent on threes but only 36 percent overall because he continues to hoist—and brick—20-foot jumpers, many early in the shot clock and at least one spoiling a potential quarter-closing two-for-one (earning a lecture from Jackson.)
- GS must limit turnovers when Curry rests. The second unit is terrible at protecting the ball; while Curry sat the first three minutes of the second quarter against Utah, Golden State's reserves committed five turnovers (a rate of 80 per 48 minutes, for the mathematically challenged.) Since backup PG Douglas won't be back until next week and Kent Bazemore has been sloppy offensively and defensively (to the point he was benched in garbage time against the Pistons), F Andre Iguodala, defaulting as Curry's backup, may just have to call his own number until he can trust the bench with the ball.
- The Dubs must continue pushing the ball in transition. San Antonio completely smothered their offense by getting back on D and limiting the Warriors to four fast-break points—which they can usually rack up in half a quarter. The Jazz repeatedly failed to get back defensively (especially Burks early) and Curry, Klay Thompson, and David Lee greatly benefited. Curry's gorgeous 60-foot lob to Lee was but one of many Golden State demoralized Utah with.
When facing a young team, you're often not facing a team at all—you're facing a collection of individuals just trying to prove they belong in the league. That leads to selfishness and carelessness, which leads to poor ball movement, poor ball-handling, and poor shot selection. That, in turn, results in a poor offense—and Utah has the NBA's worst (88.7 points per game; their lone win is also their lone 100-point effort.)
That said, as with any other opponent, Golden State would be foolish to take them lightly—they played the Dubs to a tie over the final three quarters behind the shooting of Hayward, Jefferson and Williams (who was 4-of-6 on threes if you include one waved off when he stepped on the sideline), turning on the faucet just as the Warriors seemed poised to run them out of the gym. Also, just five days ago against the Pelicans, this hungry group transformed a 16-point third-quarter deficit into a six-point victory.
(The Jazz beating New Orleans...30 years later and it still doesn't sound right.)
To put it simply, I don't think Jackson will allow Golden State to drop this game. I'm predicting a quick start by the Jazz, perhaps even a first-quarter lead. But ultimately the Warriors will prevail 99-92.