A short list of things that went the Utah Jazz's way in Game 3 of their second-round series against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday:
- Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson shot 7-for-29, including 3-for-15 from deep. Golden State as a team shot 9-for-30 from 3-point range.
- This was a slow game. There were 95 possessions and the Warriors scored only seven fast break points.
- Jazz stars Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert were both excellent on offense. Hayward had 29 points on 7-for-18 shooting, plus six assists. Gobert had 21 points on 7-for-8 shooting, plus 15 rebounds and four assists.
- All five of Utah's starters scored in double digits, including Shelvin Mack, who started in place of the injured George Hill.
- The Jazz had 19 assists. Golden State had just 17.
Utah played much better than it did in Oakland. The Jazz dictated the terms of engagement, and they played phenomenal defense. They had a one-point lead at halftime and trailed by just two points with less than four minutes to go.
The Warriors, though, prevailed yet again with a 102-91 win. The fact that the differential reached double digits shows the extreme, almost ridiculous difficulty of sticking with this superteam for an entire game. The Jazz executed their game plan, but it wasn't enough to avoid falling down 3-0 in the series.
Everybody knows that Golden State loves to run and gun. If it can't, though, it can beat you other ways. This time, it was Kevin Durant's brilliance, excellent team defense and some timely points from both of the Warriors' recent MVPs down the stretch that decided the outcome.
In a way, this relatively ugly victory illustrated exactly why Golden State chased Durant in the first place. The whole point of adding him to this team -- aside from the simple logic of "let's go get one of the best players in the NBA" -- was for situations like this. Sometimes, especially against a defense-first team in the playoffs, even one of the best offenses of all-time can bog down and lose its flow. When that happens, it helps to have a 7-foot matchup nightmare who can get buckets whenever he wants.
In the second quarter, Gobert made the Salt Lake City crowd go crazy with a two-handed dunk on a fast break. The Warriors then called timeout, and after that, they had Durant simply attack Hayward in the post.
Since that worked, they went to it again on the very next possession:
And on the possession after that:
On the one hand, from Utah's perspective, this isn't that bad. Durant was taking contested two-point jumpers, unassisted. On the other, the Jazz just couldn't get stops in this situation. And once Durant found his rhythm, it was impossible to cool him off.
"Give Utah credit: they were physical with us tonight," Warriors acting head coach Mike Brown said. "They were bumping us on our cuts, holding a little bit, not allowing us to get free, not allowing us to get free in transition. K.D. had a big night offensively. That was one of the reasons why we welcomed him here. It's tough to hold a guy that's 7 feet. It's tough to try to control a guy that's 7 feet that can play out on the perimeter and handle the ball."
Late in the game, Golden State pulled away not because of its beautiful ball movement, but because it got stops, then gave Durant the ball and let him run high pick-and-rolls. The Warriors specifically targeted Gobert because, as great as he is defensively, asking the mountain of a man to stop a red-hot Durant going downhill is a bit much.
When the Jazz were within three points, Durant made an easy 19-footer this way:
And Durant increased the lead to eight with this smooth 3-pointer:
"Really, for us, it's simplistic, basic, backyard basketball," Brown said. "You find where you think you have an advantage, and we felt we had that in a pick-and-roll situation, moving Gobert away from the hoop."
This wasn't a typical Golden State game. It won largely because of those simple offensive plays, committing only seven turnovers and holding Utah to 41 points on 32 percent shooting in the second half. Over the past few years, though, the Warriors have won plenty of tough games with a combination of defense and timely shooting, and the presence of Durant should make them even better in those areas.
For Utah, this kind of loss is tough to swallow, but all it can do now is try to bring the same effort on Monday. The reality, however, is that it could do that and its season could end anyway.
"To me, tonight we played like I think we're capable of playing from an energy and toughness and connectedness [standpoint] defensively," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "Sometimes you do everything you can do, and you get beat by someone that makes great plays."