The Golden State Warriors played the second game of this Western Conference Semifinal as though it was the first game of this Western Conference Semifinal, which allows them to look ahead to Saturday and what historically would figure to be their worst game of this Western Conference Semifinal.
In beating the Utah Jazz, 115-104, the Warriors looked in two significant ways as they had in Game 1 when they won 106-94. They rebounded better, took less care of the basketball, tried harder to force pace and got more tangible contributions from Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
But mostly, they followed the lead of Draymond Green as they had in Game 1, and they took early control of the game and never relinquished it, as they did in Game 1.
Put another way, the Warriors have trailed for exactly zero seconds in this series, and Green (21/7/6/4 steals and plus-10) defined the difficulty the Jazz have in making this a series.
Except for one thing. Game 3.
The Warriors are not a great Game 3 team; they are 4-8 in their 12 series since going through their larval stage and became a relevant team, and this would be worrying going into Saturday’s game at Salt Lake City if not for the fact that it is only marginally worse than the NBA history for teams up two games to none in a series. Teams are 105-151 in such scenarios (.410), and though only 16 teams (out of 255) have blown 2-0 leads, Golden State has barely hit what is presumed to be their stride in this series.
In other words, they have neither put Utah out of its misery nor theirs. And that, in honesty, is a thin reed upon which to stand the notion that this series is about to turn in any direction but toward Golden State's favor.
Now it could be that this is what a playoff rout should look like – a game in which the winner does not waste a lot of extraneous energy building a massive lead. Then again, massive leads don’t take a lot more energy to build than your standard comfortable lead, and the Warriors have had to do little to defend what they have created here. The Jazz are not fully healthy (which has been true most of the year) and always one option short, but they do not recede from their disadvantages. They are a tough out, but they are bordering closer to “out” than “tough.”
As Klay Thompson explained it, “Sometiems we got too comfortable . . . we’re 6-0, but we can’t let teams get confident. We had a chance to put ‘em away.”
But if the other team never has a lead, or is even within two possessions of the lead, how far is that from being “put away?” Under normal circumstances, this would be a ponderable and maybe even existential question, and there is surely something to be said for the fact that the Warriors have not trailed at any point in any of the last three games.
“We’d love to take a 15-point lead and turn it into 20 or 25, but they don’t quit,” Stephen Curry said. “There were probably three or four or five possessions where we lost focus a little bit, lost track of our men in transition, gave them some easy buckets . . . let go of the rope just a little bit.”
This is a fairly insane standard to meet, and though Curry has his own underestimated jugular instinct that makes every game a list of what could have been and wasn’t, there is only one game – Game 3 (see?) of the Portland series in which the Warriors have fought back from behind for the preponderance of the game. The other five games have been boilerplate performances in which Golden State has led for a preposterous 221:44 out of 240 minutes, or 92 percent of the time.
And if you throw in Game 3, which they won only 119-113, it’s still 81 percent.
So on the basis of that, the Warriors have been utterly dominant, not just in this series but in the one that preceded it. Their inability to put the dagger in is really just a complaint about how deep the dagger is being inserted.
But make no mistake, it’s there, and if it stays there in Game 3 Saturday, Game 3 will likely be a formality.