Their Jazz gave the Golden State Warriors everything they could handle in Utah on Saturday night, and the two-time defending Western Conference champions still emerged with their third straight double-digit victory of the series, 102-91, to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the conference semifinals.
Few teams can overcome their two-time MVP struggling against an elite defense, but we all know the Warriors aren’t most teams. Stephen Curry started 2-of-14 from the field, but fellow MVP Kevin Durant was a beast, scoring 38 points on 15-of-26 shooting, to go along with 13 rebounds. His effort was enough to keep the Warriors afloat against a game Jazz squad until Curry could find his shot again.
Trailing at the half, the Warriors strangled Utah’s offense, holding the Jazz to 12-of-37 shooting in the second half (32.4 percent) and proving they’re not just an offensive juggernaut. As if that wasn’t enough, Golden State didn’t commit a single turnover in the second half. Finally, the Warriors’ two superstars scored their team’s last 20 points, outscoring Utah 20-12 down the stretch, and Curry somehow still finished with 23 points, including 11 on just two shots in the fourth quarter.
“Really, for us, it’s simplistic basic backyard basketball,” Warriors assistant Mike Brown, manning the helm in head coach Steve Kerr’s absence, explained in describing Durant’s dominance afterwards.
Warriors' Mike Brown breaks down the match-up problems Kevin Durant presents for Rudy Gobert in pick-and-roll scenarios pic.twitter.com/Jrl155rTuc
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 7, 2017
“You can search for answers, and the answers were right in front of our bench,” said Utah coach Quin Snyder. “Those are two great players. That’s not to concede anything. I don’t think that was our mindset, but it’s just what happened. You keep grinding, they don’t make those shots all the time, but they make them a lot of times, and that’s again why they’re who they are, and that’s why this team is such a good team and so difficult to beat.
“To me, we played like I think we’re capable of playing from energy and toughness and connectedness defensively. Sometimes you do everything you can do, and you get beat by someone who makes great plays, and they demonstrated why they’re great players.”
It’s all enough to give a Jazz fan the blues. Gobert enjoyed his best game of the series, collecting 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting, with 15 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, playing like the Defensive Player of the Year candidate he was all season. Hayward was his All-Star self, too, adding 29 points and six assists, and Utah got double-digit scoring from all five starters. And they were still well short.
Sixth Man of the Year candidate Andre Iguodala (11 points) outscored Utah’s entire bench by himself, and the Warriors needed only single-digit scoring from everyone else not named Durant or Curry. Golden State looks to close out a second straight playoff sweep in Game 4 on Monday night in Utah.
The Warriors looked as unstoppable as ever in the opening 12 minutes, building a double-digit lead by the end of the first quarter on the strength of Durant, who scored 13 points in the frame to give Golden State a 27-17 lead after one. Given that the Jazz had yet to lead in the series and were without starting point guard George Hill (sore left toe), Utah sure seemed destined for that 3-0 deficit early.
But the Jazz got a lift from none other than mercurial Warriors forward Draymond Green, whose emotions were also unstoppable as ever. Green had been steaming ever since a questionable call on his second personal foul midway through the first quarter, and he boiled over upon picking up his third with 2:38 left in the opening half. As the Utah crowd cheered his relegation to the bench, the two-time All-Star reminded them his Warriors were still leading the series 2-0:
Draymond Green is taunting the Utah crowd with 2-0 pic.twitter.com/lcw8unC4sV
— SB Nation NBA (@SBNationNBA) May 7, 2017
And then Green earned a technical foul for jawing at the officials from the bench. It’s no coincidence the Jazz finished the second quarter on a 10-2 run, which included Rodney Hood’s only make of the night, a 3-pointer that — and this bears repeating — gave Utah its first lead of the series with a minute left in the first half of Game 3. After a David West jumper briefly gave the Warriors the lead back, Gobert responded with a pair of free throws that sent the Jazz into halftime with a 50-49 edge.
Draymond Green doesn't understand why he gets booed so heavily in Utah. pic.twitter.com/8rGgGWfb3F
— Connor Letourneau (@Con_Chron) May 7, 2017
Behind Hayward’s hot shooting and Gobert’s two-way rim dominance, Utah extended that lead to nine points 4 1/2 minutes into the third — all capped by a Gobert alley-oop from Boris Diaw:
For half the third quarter, the Jazz held the Warriors to just seven points, five of which were scored by Zaza Pachulia — evidence of Utah’s extraordinary defensive effort against Golden State’s four All-Star attack — and suddenly Utah felt alive in the series. But the Warriors almost immediately erased that lead on 3-pointers from their two MVPs sandwiched around a JaVale McGee dunk.
Just as quickly, it seemed like no matter how well the Jazz played, it wouldn’t be enough. The Warriors took a 72-70 lead into the fourth quarter on a too-easy Andre Iguodala transition dunk:
The Jazz never stopped fighting, but they were punching up the rest of the night. A Joe Ingles 3-pointer and a Gobert free throw briefly gave Utah a 79-78 advantage midway through the fourth quarter, and then the Warriors delivered their knockout punch. Durant kept coming, Curry heated up, and Golden State had their double-digit lead again with 2:37 remaining. Even Durant had to shrug at that point:
Emotions ran high again, and this time Green (nine points, 10 rebounds, five assists) wasn’t involved. Gobert bumped Durant under the basket in the final minutes, and Durant shoved him back, earning flagrant and technical fouls:
By then, it didn’t matter, and Utah’s 7-foot-1 French center seemed to understand that afterwards, explaining the “kerfuffle” as matter of factly as possible in his postgame press conference:
Jazz big man Rudy Gobert talks about the little scuffle between him and Kevin Durant pic.twitter.com/6etl6l3OMn
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) May 7, 2017
It’s all just funny to Golden State at this point:
Durant asked about the "kerfuffle" with Gobert
Curry: "That is a word right there" pic.twitter.com/mdLaCj3o82
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 7, 2017
Yup, the Warriors had flexed their muscle again, leaving the rest of the league wondering, if a 51-win team can play like that and still lose by 11, what chance do they have?
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