Considering the Warriors came into Friday night’s game at Vivint Smart Home Arena with only eight healthy players, and considering none of them were Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green or D’Angelo Russell, the Jazz had a fair bit of wiggle room to play less than their best and still ultimately come away with a victory.
They very nearly took that leeway too far.
Utah slogged through a sloppy start, exploited its outmatched and defensively-deficient opponent for a time, then had to survive a low-effort fourth quarter and a furious Warriors rally just to ultimately prevail with a lackluster 113-109 victory.
As if that wasn’t dramatic enough, the arena was hurriedly cleared at the game’s conclusion, due to the presence of a suspicious package. Salt Lake City Police Department Lt. Carlos Valencia told reporters that a bomb-sniffing dog gave a positive signal to a package left near the El Chubasco restaurant in the arena.
The locker room was emptied in short order, some players leaving the building and heading for their cars while still wearing their purple mountain jerseys.
As for the game, the win was the Jazz’s second straight and bolstered their record to 10-5 on the season, but coach Quin Snyder was clearly displeased with his team committing 21 turnovers on the night and being outscored 37-23 over the final 12 minutes, as Golden State at one point rallied to within two points.
“The whole fourth quarter, we got sloppy, turned the ball over, didn’t get back in transition,” he said. “… There’s disappointment in the fourth quarter and how we executed offensively, and the things that we can control — particularly transition defense, not getting back with urgency.”
Donovan Mitchell led the way with 30 points, four rebounds and four assists. Mike Conley shot 9 for 14 in totaling 27 points, plus another four and four. Bojan Bogdanovic added 17 points, five rebounds, and three assists (but committed four turnovers). And while Rudy Gobert had only eight points, he did contribute 19 rebounds and seven blocks.
Utah shot 50.6% for the game, and hit 14 of 32 from 3-point range (43.8%).
The outcome never seemed seriously in doubt until the game’s final seconds, when the feisty Warriors improbably rallied to within two. From there, Conley and Mitchell each went 1 for 2 at the free-throw line to build the margin to four. The game was ultimately secured when Snyder challenged the foul that Gobert was alleged to have committed against Alec Burks, the call was overturned on replay, Gobert won the tip and Mitchell controlled the ball, evaded the defense and ran out the clock.
Snyder did acknowledge Conley as a rare bright spot afterward, saying the point guard is finding his way.
“He’s just starting to get comfortable,” Snyder said. “He knows where his shots are coming, he’s getting more connected to the other guys on the court, particularly in the pick and roll. He’s ready to shoot off the ball, and he’s leading our team.”
Awful as the ending was, the start was nearly as bad, as it took the Jazz some time to look the part of the overwhelming favorites they were.
Back-to-back turnovers yielded a pair of Warriors transition baskets, which cut their early deficit to 19-18 and prompted a Snyder timeout.
Then, at the end of the first period, it took a buzzer-beating trey from Mitchell to save Utah the embarrassment of trailing GSW after the first 12 minutes, as the Jazz went up just 30-28, in spite of shooting 60% from the field.
The problems? Lackadaisical defense enabled Golden State to shoot 50% itself. Meanwhile, the Jazz coughed the ball up five times in that opening period.
Of course, the talent disparity appeared simply too wide for the game to stay close for long.
The Jazz finally got rolling about five minutes into the second quarter, when a Bogdanovic 3-pointer capped a 14-2 run that turned a 44-41 lead into a 58-43 advantage that effectively settled things for awhile.
Golden State’s plucky bunch did have another gasp left in them, rallying to within nine early in the third. The Jazz responded, as Conley buried a 3, Mitchell got a steal and transition dunk, Gobert shut down a driving layup attempt by Burks, then was fed by Conley on the other end for an open jam.
And just like that, the lead was back to 76-60 with 8:19 left in the period, and it seemed all that effectively remained was avoiding injury and earning a big enough lead to precipitate some rest before Saturday night’s back-to-back tilt against New Orleans.
Alas, the sloppiness reared its head again, and prevented even that.