Five observations: Warriors crush Jazz in Utah, continue their recent surge

SALT LAKE CITY — Here are five observations from the Golden State Warriors’ 129-107 blowout road win over the Utah Jazz on Monday night, bumping their record over .500 for the first time since December.

1. The improving big picture

The low point of the Warriors’ season came four weeks ago in Salt Lake City. They’d just been waxed by a Memphis Grizzlies team without all their best players, dropping them to 18-22 after a particularly feeble 3-8 stretch. A chunk of the organization convened at a team dinner meant to relieve stress.

At the event, Dejan Milojevic, a beloved assistant coach, suffered a heart attack and died the next morning, providing a heavy dose of trauma and real-life perspective to a season already spiraling.

Two games were postponed. Their season was put on pause for nine days. Their record stood still at 18-22, keeping them stuck at 12th in the West. It felt trivial (from a life perspective) and silly (from an on-court perspective) to predict any type of turnaround.

Four weeks later, the Warriors were back in Utah, still feeling the sting of Milojevic’s death. Warriors coach Steve Kerr and assistant coaches Chris DeMarco and Ron Adams weren’t with the team. They’d traveled to Serbia for Milojevic’s Monday morning funeral. Kenny Atkinson, the acting head coach, chatted with Kerr in the late morning and updated the players on the coaches’ experience in Serbia, a somber reminder of their loss.

But after that, the conversation shifted to basketball, which has become a more desired distraction of late because their season has turned around.

“Winning helps,” Atkinson said. “When you’re starting to go on a little bit of a win streak, you want more. So there’s that enthusiasm. We also know we’re behind (in the standings). So there’s a little bit of an edge to us. A positive edge.”

The Warriors then went out and blasted a Jazz team directly below them in the standings. Utah is sinking quickly after trading off three rotation pieces at the deadline. The Warriors are 1 1/2 games up on the Jazz for the 10th spot and trending higher, a half-game back of the Los Angeles Lakers and four back of the Phoenix Suns at the sixth spot, their ultimate target.

In the 11 games since returning from the nine-day hiatus, the Warriors are 8-3. Two of those losses came in overtime. The other came by a single point to the Sacramento Kings. They’ve won five in a row and seven of eight. Six of those seven games have essentially been blowouts. They have the fourth-best offense (121.2 rating) and third-best defense (110.5 rating) during that stretch.

There are reasons to believe it’s sustainable. Jonathan Kuminga has exploded in the past month. Draymond Green is back, motivated and playing terrifically on both ends, tying together a frontcourt pairing of Kuminga and the subtly surging Andrew Wiggins. Steph Curry is scorching hot. Young depth pieces behind them — like Brandin Podziemski, Lester Quinones and Gui Santos — are providing a boost.

“Honestly, I think me getting suspended helped, in a weird way,” Green said. “Because JK’s taken off. That has kind of set the stage for our team. Bona fide No. 2 option on our team. Now you got different things we can go to. Our offense don’t look the exact same like it used to look. You’re able to find different combinations that worked.”

Then, Green noted: “Not that I wanted to get suspended or that was good or anything like that. But I do think it kind of helped us find different things we can go to and explore. Now you add me back to the fray, add (Gary Payton II) back from injury, (Chris Paul) will be coming back.”

2. Curry during the surge

Here are Curry’s 3-point numbers during this 11-game stretch: 74-of-151. That’s 6.7 makes per game on 49 percent accuracy. Nobody else in the NBA has made 50 3s during that period. Curry has made 241 this season. The next closest sits at 180.

Curry has been particularly potent in the past three games. He went 11-of-16 against the Indiana Pacers to close out the previous trip and 9-of-16 at home against the Suns on Saturday night, then backed it up with a 7-of-16 night against the Jazz, making four of those 3s in the fourth quarter to seal it.

“He’s on fire,” Atkinson said. “I think he knows the moment. He knows we need him. We have a lot of catching up to do. I think he just senses that the team needs him. Draymond is in that same bucket. They just kind of know. ‘It’s time to go now.’ There’s nothing more comforting than that.”

The Warriors were a plus-30 in Curry’s minutes against the Jazz. They just needed some fill-in buckets to tread water while he was on the bench and to sustain the blowout. In the past decade, that burden has often fallen to Thompson, who had been struggling lately but put together one of his better games of the season Monday night.

Without Curry to open the fourth, Thompson made three consecutive midrange jumpers from nearly the same location, about 14 feet out next to the right elbow. The first was a pump-fake and-1 against an overzealous Kris Dunn. The second was a curling one-leg rainbow while Dunn trailed the screen. The third was a quick cut, catch and fire.

Here is the first:

Here is the second:

Here is the third:

That wasn’t even half of Thompson’s damage inside the arc. He made three 3s, including the punctuation point that allowed Atkinson to clear the bench, but 11 shots total. That means Thompson made eight 2s. It is his most 2s in a game since January 2023 — more than a year. He was effective in the midrange, as a back cutter and when leaking out in transition.

“Took his time,” Atkinson said. “Wasn’t rushed. He really used his size to get in the lane and shoot over their smaller guards.”

It earned Thompson a spot in the closing lineup, which had eluded him recently and been a source of angst.

“He was phenomenal on both ends,” Atkinson said. “His physicality, his shot challenges. He took (Lauri) Markkanen at the end. He said, ‘I want Markkanen.’ Did a really good job on him.”

4. What else?

Wiggins continued his recent strong stretch, providing sturdy defense on the wing while adding 17 points on 10 shots. He was a plus-31 and part of a group of eight Warriors in double figures.

Trayce Jackson-Davis’ nine minutes were particularly notable. After no time in the first half, Atkinson used him as a threat at the rim in the second half, and Curry and Thompson found him immediately. He made all four of his shots and got to the rim for five free throws. They even tried him a little with Green, a frontcourt pairing Kerr recently said he wanted to test at some point.

Moses Moody also crept in from the edge of the rotation. Atkinson first put him in late in the first half for a few minutes and went back to him for a six-minute stint in the second half. He’s been behind Lester Quinones recently. Moody, just back after an extended absence for a calf strain, missed all eight of his shots.

“Trayce gave us a big boost,” Atkinson said. “It’s important we surround those guys with our vets in the right lineups. Trayce was out there with Draymond. It helps him get in places. Moses is in kind of that spot right now: Out with an injury, coming back, gotta find his way. It was good we got him some minutes.”

5. Shot of the game

Green hit a half-courter to close the first half:

(Photo of Klay Thompson: Chris Nicoll / USA Today)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top