The Golden State Warriors were in need of a spiritual revival. Draymond Green, through sickness and general wear-and-tear associated with playing pedal-to-the-metal while banging against opponents with a constant weight advantage, had looked generally enervated the past couple weeks. Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes were progressing through their own prolonged outside shooting slumps. Stephen Curry was serving the role as point guard and Atlas, holding the entire 56-win behemoth team on his sturdy shoulders. Despite the standings showing sparse signs of such interior struggle, the Warriors were profoundly, spiritually, drained.
Coming into tonight, with a match against the physically dominant Utah Jazz, questions regarding the Warriors' fatigue swarmed the team like buzzards anticipating a soon-to-be carcass. Instead of showing prolapsed enervation, the Warriors flipped the proverbial on/off switch back into its correct position: ON, with capitalization for the sake of emphasis. It didn't necessarily reflect in the score — not at first, at least. But the Warriors, for the first time in seemingly a long time, looked wholly interested and able. Draymond Green flitted around the court in transition, breaking up passes like a 6'7 Barry Sanders and hitting threes like an earlier-season Draymond Green. Returning wing Andre Iguodala served as WD-40 for the creaky gears in the machination of the Warriors' high-octane offensive attack, helping the ball zoom around the perimeter; the Warriors passed up open jumpers for excellently timed open layups.
Fluid ball movement made a return. So did defensive focus. Klay, Steph, and Barnes fought through screens and funneled them towards Andrew Bogut, who was fantastic in his usual stalwart rim protection role, as always. Every player on the court just moved sharper, with more focus and more cognizant activity.
None of the ghoulish lackadaisical turnovers or missed rotations that coach Steve Kerr detests. Instead, emotional and physical involvement. Stephen Curry, seventy-two hours and a lifetime removed of sleep-walking through Staples Center, was assessed a rare technical foul of passion arguing a call. Andre Iguodala picked up a technical of his own, protesting a call that wasn't even against him.
It wasn't a perfect all-around game. The Jazz's imposing frontcourt crushed the Warriors on the offensive glass, stymieing the Warriors' lead at times. This has recently also allowed the Oklahoma City Thunder to keep up with the Warriors — despite the Warriors shooting a higher percentage from the field, moving the ball better, and playing better defense, the Warriors allowed second and third (and fourth) chances to their opponents. These extra possessions resulted in a close score for much of the first three quarters.
But the Warriors looked too much like the Warriors on this night. Leandro Barbosa incisively cut through set defenses like a surgeon's blade. Marreese Speights channeled 2015 in his veins, finishing plays with dunks and finding cutters with pin-point passes. The Warriors at their acme is infectiously great basketball, and Speights caught that flu tonight. Speights' finest assist was perhaps the 60-foot out-of-bounds fly route he expertly threw to a streaking Barbosa for a last-second (literally) score to end the third quarter. Draymond hugged him, beaming, as time expired in the quarter; Iguodala grinned from ear-to-ear as he walked towards the pair. That was a telling snapshot of the feeling of the night: giddy relief to be back in working order.
Speights finished with a season-high 16 points, receiving a rare standing ovation as he subbed out of the game early in the fourth quarter. He was part of an uber-efficient bench attack for the Warriors that featured Barbosa, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and Anderson Varejao.
The starters saw a brief three minute cameo in the fourth quarter to balloon the fledgling 16-point lead back up into the low 20s, before Jazz coach Quinn Snyder called a timeout in what was tantamount to tossing in the towel. His bruising Jazz team might have had a legitimate shot to steal one out from under the Warriors' noses under the right circumstances. The Jazz faced the Warriors just one game too late — the Warriors have reawakened and rediscovered themselves in a dominant show of force against the Utah Jazz.