San Francisco • Just three weeks ago, the Utah Jazz had arguably their best win of the season — a manic, frantic, epic comeback against the Golden State Warriors, a victory they had no business coming away with.
Wednesday’s rematch could perhaps be considered the basketball gods’ payback for the theft, a balancing of the cosmic, karmic scales.
For most of a game played against a short-handed Warriors team missing stars Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins (among others), the Jazz were solidly if not quite firmly ahead. And then they shot 4 of 25 in the fourth and lost 112-107.
With this defeat coming as it did on the heels of a lethargic loss in San Antonio on Monday, surely it’s time for some warning sirens to go off? Actually, the Jazz were preaching quite the opposite in the aftermath.
“There’s always a couple games in every season where the most important thing for us as a staff and for our team is to maintain very real perspective,” said coach Will Hardy. “We’re all competitive, we want to win every single night, but there’s nights that you can play poorly and win and there’s nights that you can execute what you want to, play the way you want to play, and things just don’t go your way.”
Following that Spurs game, in which the Jazz yielded more than 70 points in the paint, they made it a point to focus on and improve that component in the subsequent days. And they did, as Golden State got just 34.
Meanwhile, it’s not as though Utah’s defense got obliterated in the decisive final period. The Warriors totaled just 24 points in the final 12 minutes, shooting 7 for 22.
Turnovers weren’t a huge issue. One interminable possession aside, Golden State didn’t torture Utah on the offensive glass.
Really, it was a few crucial moments (Ty Jerome getting hot at the end of the third period; Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Jordan Poole nailing back-to-back 3s in the opening minute of the fourth), and a few crucial areas (the aforementioned poor shooting, plus GSW racking up 23 fast-break points) which sealed the Jazz’s fate.
Hardy cautioned pregame that he was “nervous as ever,” and warned it was imperative for his team to remember “that everybody on that roster is an NBA player, and anybody can beat you on any given night.” The Jazz did not appear to take the Warriors lightly — they simply made too many mistakes here and there to pull away, then missed too many shots late to pull it off.
And so, in the end, they were disappointed to lose to a depleted opponent. But they also weren’t crushed, believing they did many things right, and the game simply came down to some nice looks just not going in.
“We did a good job of staying in front of our guys for the most part, making them have to work hard for buckets,” said Mike Conley, who totaled 10 assists, but shot 2 of 11 overall and just 1 of 8 from 3. “If we can continue to do that on the defensive end, the shots will start to fall, things will start to be easier for us on offense, and we’ll win more games, more likely than not.”
And for what it’s worth, they didn’t hate the offense they got late, just the results.
The coach rattled off a series of possessions the team had in the final minutes — some drive-and-kicks, some corner 3s by Lauri Markkanen, some looks from right in front of the team’s bench by Malik Beasley and the just-returned-from-injury Kelly Olynyk — all of which he considered good plays.
But the ball didn’t go in.
His players generally agreed with that viewpoint.
“Yeah, I think we executed — execution was pretty solid, and I think we got good looks,” said Markkanen, who racked up 29 points through the first three periods, but shot 0 for 6 in the fourth. “Of course, we can always get better ones, but I think we did a decent job finding the open guy.”
The Finn blamed himself in part, noting that he could have done more in the second half by being more aggressive, by doing a better job of punishing smaller defenders.
But he wasn’t concerned. Nor was Conley. Or Hardy.
All of them, in some form or fashion, touted trusting process over results. Which isn’t to say they aren’t hoping for better results in their road-trip finale this Friday in Sacramento.