Steve Kerr didn’t tell the Golden State Warriors that this was the most important game of the year so far, but in the 4th quarter, Klay Thompson started playing like it was an elimination Game Six. With seven minutes left to play and the Warriors trailing the Utah Jazz 103-87, Thompson hit four three-pointers in a span of 2:41, part of an 18-0 run. That put the Dubs ahead for good, and they held on to win, 113-107, and clinch a playoff spot.
It was a combination of stifling Warriors defense and some stunning Jazz miscues that led to the defeat. After threes from Thompson and Nemanja Bjelica cut the lead to six points at the end of three quarters, Utah blasted out of the gate with a 12-2 run to start the fourth. But after Rudy Gobert took a missed Mike Conley layup and dunked with 7:54 remaining, the Jazz wouldn’t score for over six minutes, thanks to turnovers, missed layups, and a Donovan Mitchell timeout call that looked clutch but severely backfired.
Suddenly, the Warriors are no longer the Western Conference playoff team that’s floundering the most! The Jazz have now lost six of their last seven games, their only win coming against a Los Angeles Lakers team missing LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the will to live. And it’s not even the biggest lead they’ve blown this week! They led the LA Clippers by 25 points Tuesday before falling, 121-115, in a game that also featured a memorable Mitchell timeout from out of bounds. Tuesday, Mitchell was inbounding the ball with ten seconds left and called a timeout the Jazz didn’t have, Chris Webber-style.
Last night, Mitchell corralled a wild pass from Bojan Bogdanovic, and while he was falling out of bounds, he called a timeout, and the referees granted it, which made Draymond Green madder than if the ref had written a story about his birthday partying.
The Jazz had two timeouts at the time, so initially, this looked like a heads-up play from Utah’s All-Star guard. But the Jazz were left with just 0.8 on the shot clock, and had to settle for a desperation three from Gobert, which Draymond emphatically blocked like he was slapping a Defensive Player of the Year trophy out of the Frenchman’s hands. And after Poole’s three-pointer gave the Warriors their first lead of the game with 3:33 to go - as Gobert inexplicably backpedaled away from the wide-open Poole - Coach Quin Snyder called his final timeout, leaving Utah with none for the home stretch.
Not a great night for Duke coaches - Mike Krzyzewski used his last one after his team made a three-pointer with a minute and a half left during North Carolina’s upset, maybe five minutes later.
The Warriors wouldn’t make a field goal the rest of the way, but they did make all six of their foul shots down the stretch. And Gobert helped out by stopping the Jazz just as much as the exhausted Warriors did down the stretch, first by grabbing the rim as a Mike Conley layup was going in, and then, trailing by just a point in the final seconds, by throwing an outlet pass into the stands.
Klay Thompson finished with 36 points and eight three-pointers, five in the final 13 minutes of the game, all of which he played. Minutes are now a thing of the past for Klay, as should be the criticism that he’s shooting too much. Dribbling too much? That’s probably fair, considering he once scored 60 points on 11 dribbles. But in the 4th, Klay’s jumper was like Klay himself on any off day: Wet.
Jordan Poole got that Klay run going with a sick pass, one of his six assists for the game, and finished with 31 points. It’s his 16th-straight game with 20+ points, and he also went 7-7 from the free throw line, where he’s shooting 92% on the year. That would be the highest mark in the NBA if not for Steph Curry, who may be out for the regular season, but his bench celebrations are already in playoff form. That walking boot doesn’t stop him from leaping up to congratulate his Splash Brother, baby!
Dratymond Green led the team with seven assists and nine rebounds, and even scored ten point, his high since returning from his back injury. In the second half he was nearly perfect, scoring with of those points, playing masterful defense and not committing a single turnover. In fact, the team as a whole only turned the ball over once in the entire second half, and not at all in the fourth.
Andrew Wiggins had another strong game - he might be the happiest of all the Warriors about Draymond’s return - with 17 points on just ten shots. In the second half, he shot 4-4, 2-2 from three-point range, and added three assists and a steal. Although it might be that he simply loves dunking on Rudy Gobert, which he did again to start the second half.
Gobert simply brings out an extra level of aggression from Maple Jordan, like this drive from earlier this year.
My original theory was that Wiggins is pissed off that Gobert touched all those microphones and gave his teammates COVID-19, which meant Wiggins had to get vaccinated, which he hated. But he’s been dunking on Gobert since the bird flu era!
It’s definitely something to watch going forward. Right now, the Warriors are sitting at the No. 3 seed in the West - the Mavericks-Bucks game is going to give a big indication of they can stay there - while the Jazz are sitting three games back at No. 5, but they’ve got the same record as the No. 6 Denver Nuggets. However it shakes out, you know Utah is the Warriors’ dream first round opponent, especially if Gobert keeps playing drop coverage on Jordan Poole.
Mike Conley was great for Utah, putting up 26 points and 8 assists, 17 of those points after the break. In the final 7:54 of the game, he was the only Jazz player to make a basket. Donovan Mitchell had a mirror image game to Conley, scoring most of his own 26 points early, with nine points after halftime and zero points on 0-4 shooting in the final quarter. Gobert had 14 points and a whopping 20 rebounds, but the late mistakes and ineffective defense late sunk the Jazz. Based on body language, contract status, and the Jazz’s doomed recent playoff history, it seems extremely likely Rudy will be playing for a new team next season.
The game started with a lot of promise for the Jazz and the same old struggles for the Dubs. Utah shot 6-14 from long distance in the first quarter, led by Mitchell’s 11 points, and took exactly zero shots from mid-range. It was all three-pointers or shots from within nine feet of the cup. It feels like a rule that the Warriors have to fall behind by double-digits in the first quarter, since they’ve done it in nine straight games now. Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton II came in and righted the ship, and Thompson made up for some early misses by closing the quarter with a dunk and a three, and the Warriors trailed 30-23 after one.
It was the second quarter where the wheels truly fell off. Klay opened the quarter with five quick points, while Utah stayed hot with two quick threes. The second, a Conley three from the corner, launched a huge run against a Warriors’ bench lineup that seemed incapable of delivering any rim pressure, and missed five straight three-pointers. Meanwhile, Jordan Clarkson got into the lane at will, and Conley hit another triple, while Steve Kerr called timeouts and looked for answers to stop what became a 16-0 run. At this point, Utah was shooting 9-18 from distance and had 19-point lead. They’d go 6-28 the rest of the way.
Things got better when Poole and Green re-entered. Poole scored 14 points in the remaining seven minutes, which was all of the Warriors’ scoring besides a GPII three. The downside was that Poole also had three turnovers, including a howler with ten seconds left that let Utah close the half on an easy layup.
The real comeback effort began in the third quarter, a high-scoring back-and-forth battle where neither team could get stops. Gary Payton II started to close the gap with an extremely athletic deflection and layup to cut the lead to ten, and minutes later, Andre Iguodala found him open for a three.
And when GPII found Thompson and Bjelica on consecutive possessions for triples, the lead was just six points. Would the Warriors snap their losing streak?
It didn’t look like as Utah started draining threes again to start the 4th, and the mostly-bench unit that brought them back quickly ran out of gas. But when the starters came in for the Warriors, they began scoring again, and when Utah brought their starters back, they stopped.
OPJ was once again huge in crunch time, despite minimal box score contributions. He blocked a Clarkson layup and grabbed three rebounds, but mainly his spacing confounded Utah’s defense. As seen in the playoffs last year, the Jazz really struggle to defend an offense full of three-point shooters, even with the greatest three-point shooter of all time out. Porter kept them just honest enough, and Gobert confused enough, that Thompson could rain fire on the defense. Klay called the defense “Not very smart,” and added “I’m not surprised but I’m grateful.”
It was the first time Poole has been on the court alongside Thompson when he went supernova in a big game, and he said “It felt amazing to be a part of.” Klay was effusive in his praise for Poole in his post-game interview, and in his postgame hugs: “I gave him a hug because I was like, ‘I appreciate you brother.’ Having to handle the ball, come off screens — it’s exhausting. For a young man to embrace that like he has, I’m just incredibly proud of him.”
It was a proud night for the whole team, who suddenly control their own playoff destiny. They’re sitting a game ahead of the Mavericks facing a possible trap game tonight in Sacramento. But their remaining three games are against teams who likely have nothing to play for. The nearly-eliminated Lakers look ready to shut down LeBron and AD - once King James qualifies for the scoring title - and both San Antonio and New Orleans are probably entrenched in the No. 10 and No. 9 spot respectively. What a difference a quarter makes! And the difference is Klay.