Monson: Good news — Jazz can play better; bad news — so can the Warriors

First Published      Last Updated May 22 2017 03:36 pm

With the intention around here of at least watching the Jazz continue to evolve — they played better in Game 2 than they did in Game 1 — through this semifinal playoff series, as they face the team against which every other team measures itself, we're hurtling toward an additional, unavoidable focus: appreciating how great the Golden State Warriors are.

Thursday night's Game 2 was a double-barreled deal: It gave the Jazz hope for a more competitive result with a few more improvements at home, and it reminded the Jazz and everyone else how steep the climb really is.

The Warriors won 67 games this season following a year during which they won 73, and the season prior, when they took an NBA title after winning 67. And this iteration, the one that's up 2-zip on the Jazz, is better than the first two. The only way the Warriors won't hoist Larry O'Brien's trophy in June is if somebody significant gets hurt, and even then there's a good chance they lift it anyway.

LeBron willing.

Observers knew the Warriors would be something extraordinary when they signed Kevin Durant during the offseason. Some thought adding one of the NBA's three best players to a squad already loaded with all-stars was criminal, at worst, and unfair, at best. That's a discussion for a different time.

But when the upstart Jazz, so full of enthusiasm after having freshly disposed of the L.A. Clippers in the opening round, the first playoff advancement for the happy club since 2010, ran headlong into … this, into this ridiculous collection of talent, it was sobering. The series' initial five quarters were the equivalent of a sweet little family of possums dancing merrily across a stretch of blacktop, only to meet up with a joy-killing 18-wheeler.

Maybe that's a step too far.

Maybe not.

After witnessing the first two games, both in Oakland, the overwhelming impression is not only that the Warriors are formidable, but that they are pretty much impossible. Hashing their way through a horrible start, the Jazz fought valiantly into the latter stages of Game 2, led by a stellar showing from Gordon Hayward, who got 33 points, many of them on high-degree-of-difficulty shots. Still, the rest of the guys couldn't do what they tried to do. That's what playing a great opponent causes — players like Rodney Hood (4 of 13, 0 of 5 from deep) and Joe Ingles (1 of 5) to attempt to go beyond themselves. That did not work.

"They blitzed us so strong early," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "… We played with a little more urgency after the start."

Not enough to overcome.

The Jazz haven't led for one minute, one second, thus far in this series.

"You're digging a big hole for yourself," Hayward said. "We've got to be better from the get-go."

And stay better.

Here's the thing, though: The Warriors don't even seem to be shifting into their highest gear. Sometimes they're in neutral. They can go faster. They can be better, too. The only factor that can draw that out of them is … need. So far, the Jazz haven't required it from them. Maybe there's a team somewhere out there that can scare them, that can take two or three games from them, that can push them to their impressive limit, but that team to date isn't the Jazz, and that team may not exist.

"We know we can play better," Warriors acting head coach Mike Brown said.

"We let go of the rope a little bit," said Steph Curry. "… We understand we have to play better on the road. … It's going to be a dogfight until the end."

The fluidity with which Golden State typically plays offense, the plethora of scorers, the spacing, the popping, the sharing, the running, the whole that is even greater than the sum of its parts, combined with a defense that punishes teams for their well-intentioned mistakes, that rolls over them for a simple bobbled pass or a missed shot is unmatched … in today's game and perhaps in yesterday's, too.

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