OAKLAND -- Rusty?
The Golden State Warriors shot 54.5 percent and committed four turnovers against a good defense their first 24 minutes of playoff basketball in eight days.
Not in ideal basketball shape?
The Warriors, after averaging 87.3 shots in the opening round against the Portland Trail Blazers and 87.1 in the regular season, got to 82 on Tuesday night while rubbing sleep out of their eyes.
Needing time to find their rhythm?
Golden State went from completing the four-game sweep of the Trail Blazers on April 24 to an unusually long layoff to starting the new series against an opponent with the momentum of three wins in the last four outings. The Jazz had won their last two playoff games on the road, including a Game 7 on the road.
Yet the Warriors showed absolutely none of those unique circumstances mattered. They were smooth and efficient, synced and controlling, as if coming off typical rest.
They handled the Jazz and the calendar, compliments both. The Warriors went from interim coach Mike Brown saying about two hours before tipoff that “There are a lot of concerns about the layoff” and that “You might not mentally be at your sharpest when that first game comes around or physically you may not be at your sharpest when the first game comes around” to watching his team make deep incisions. Mentally and physically, the favorites handled the pressing early question of the conference semifinals with certainty.
Brown also hit on the key reason the Warriors didn’t need to sweat the schedule too much: a veteran team that has faced almost every situation just moved closer to three consecutive trips to the Western Conference finals. So professional, Brown called the group.
In the big picture, if this was the Warriors at their most vulnerable, open to being exploited for at least a night due to no reason other than dismissing the Trail Blazers so fast, this series won’t go much different. The Jazz needed to capitalize on the rarity of being handed an opening and didn’t, or, rather, couldn’t. Golden State was that assertive, not searching.
“I think one of the things about Golden State is just how quick they think,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “Just mentally, they’re able to get, not just from possession to possession, but within a possession…. They changed ends quickly. They back cut. I’ll just have to look at the film, but I thought they just were smarter, yes, but just more urgent and quicker thinking, more reactive. If you have those moments where you’re not urgent enough, they just punish you for it. There were a lot of things in transition defense, not finding Klay Thompson in transition, a lot of things like that. But that’s kind of the common theme in my mind is how quickly they think. How connected they are.”
Not just that. How connected they are while playing with eight days rest.
Seven turnovers by the Warriors tied a franchise playoff low… for the second time in three games. Thirty-two of the 40 field goals came off assists, a bright flashing sign of how well the ball was moving. They shot 48.8 percent against the team that allowed 44.3 in the regular season, second-best in the league.
And the defense: Utah’s top scoring threat, All-Star Gordon Hayward, was four of 15 from the field. And the defense from the start: The Jazz didn’t score for almost 4 ½ minutes, until 7:48 remained in the first quarter, leading to a deficit that would reach 17 points in the second period and 21 in the fourth.
“We picked up right where we left off,” Stephen Curry said after scoring 22 points on a relatively quiet night that included just 11 shots and almost as many turnovers (four) as assists (five). “I think our defense to start the first quarter gave us a chance to settle in offensively and find our rhythm. We weren’t clicking with making shots early on. But our defense just really gave us an opportunity to kind of find that flow. And that’s what you need in the playoffs, to assert yourself and get the momentum on your side.”
On the night the organization celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the "We Believe" Warriors -- the Baron Davis-Stephen Jackson-Jason Richardson-led squad that shocked the Dallas Mavericks in the first round -- Golden State 2016-17 hit the rewind button as well. All the way to a week ago, before the long layoff raised a concern and then seven turnovers, 48.8 percent and a 12-point victory answered back.
“You would think it usually takes a while to get that rhythm, and it’s usually a little sloppy,” Golden State forward Draymond Green said. “But that says a lot about this group, a veteran group, to stay locked in and try to keep those turnovers low. Because if we can do that, we have a great chance of winning.”
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