There are some numbers that, no matter how long you stare at them, no matter how much you analyze them, refuse to make sense.
A sellout crowd of 18,306 at Vivint Smart Home Arena got a taste of that sensation on Tuesday night as the Utah Jazz led the NBA’s defending champions by as many as 45 points.
The Golden State Warriors (58-24) had nothing to play for, and the Jazz — still wrangling to get the third seed in the Western Conference — had lots on the line. But that did little to detract from the warm feeling fans got from a resounding 119-79 victory, and it provided palpable confidence to the playoff-bound Jazz, who will only have meaningful games from this point forward.
With a win on Wednesday night in Portland, Utah can secure the third seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the postseason — an outcome nearly as unthinkable as the blowout they laid on Golden State to finish 3-1 in the season series.
“What makes it a story is no one expected, but the thing I’ve said all year is we knew we were going to be good,” Donovan Mitchell said. “I don’t think we knew three-seed good, but we knew we were going to be good and we maintained focus.”
At the heart of the blowout was Mitchell (22 points), who invited pressure from the moment he walked in the building wearing a sweatshirt trolling Ben Simmons, his main Rookie of the Year candidate.
Mitchell again answered the call, starting out with 12 points in the first quarter, including a scintillating dribble drive that left Draymond Green tripped up on a screen and JaVale McGee beaten to the rim for a lay-up. His first 3-pointer of the third quarter wasn’t his most impressive — an open corner trey — but it was the one that set the NBA’s rookie record for most 3-pointers in a season (186, surpassing Damian Lillard’s 185).
Coach Quin Snyder said he was most proud that Mitchell probably didn’t know he was breaking a record. Mitchell said he didn’t — until he heard the crowd screaming that he needed one more.
But breaking records isn’t the characteristic that his teammates have come to admire most.
“He brings it every night,” said Ricky Rubio, who had 13 points and five assists. “It seems like he doesn’t get tired. There’s no rookie wall for him. He breaks that record but there’s more things for him to come.”
Other Jazzmen mauled the Warriors as well: Derrick Favors scored 16 points and added nine rebounds, notching his own memorable moment with a baseline dunk over Zaza Pachulia in the first quarter. Rudy Gobert also wreaked havoc on defense, recording two blocks while holding the Warriors to a season-low 33 points in the first half.
There was no point that the Warriors, locked into the two-seed for the past month, looked competitive, despite fielding Green, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Utah got out to a 23-9 lead in the opening seven minutes, and Golden State never came within double digits again.
The most important stat, however, might’ve been minutes played. No Jazz starter logged more than 28:21 — resting legs comfortably for tomorrow’s regular season finale against the Trail Blazers.
The improbable journey extends back to Utah’s last home game against Golden State, which was a 30-point blowout. Since that game on Jan. 30, Utah has gone 27-5 — a winning percentage only bested by the Western Conference’s top seed, the Houston Rockets.
The key, Snyder said, has been consistency. And it’s consistency that he hopes will translate for the rest of the season, perhaps even to new unseen heights.
“As far as the results of the game, I am pleased that we played the right way,” he said. “That we played hard.”