When the day comes for the Warriors to lower this season into the ground, whether it’s May or June, they can look back on Sunday and appreciate knowing they did not let it happen on Steph Curry’s birthday.
The Warriors came into Chase Center wiping sleep from their eyes and mired in a four-game losing streak, their longest of the season. They were facing the Utah Jazz, the No. 1 team in the NBA thus far.
And the Warriors responded with their fiercest 48 minutes this season, taking a 131-119 victory that snapped the losing streak, allowed them to avoid dipping below .500 and reminded them of how high they can rise when they bring pride and precision.
Three days after being blasted by the Clippers in Los Angeles and looking like a mediocre squad destined for no better than an undesirable postseason seed, the Warriors performed like a top-four seed.
Every Utah run was met with a Warriors recovery. Aside from a 17-second span in the first quarter, they never trailed.
“Losing four in a row and the next opportunity to step on the floor is against the team with the best record in the NBA, that is a tough situation to be in,” said Draymond Green said after posting his 26th career triple-double. “You can tell that it was a different team out there on the floor from the moment that we stepped out there. We have said it all year, that is who this team could be when we defend at the level that we defended tonight.”
Defense is where their pride best manifested itself. The Warriors swarmed. They were aware, alert and rarely caught flat-footed, more consistently engaged than at any time during their losing streak. They limited the Jazz to 44.1 percent shooting from the field and 34.1 percent from distance, both well below Utah’s season percentages.
Curry, who turned 33, mentioned defense is being the pivotal factor for these Warriors.
“That’s what we talked about coming out of the Clipper game was, before the All-Star break, we had climbed the charts with our defensive rating and all that,” he said. “But we had hit a lull during the losing streak where we weren’t physical. We didn’t make the opposing team feel us and everybody was just comfortable playing against us, getting to their sets, and getting to their spots.”
Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson, Utah’s most explosive scorers, combined for 45 points but shot only 16-of-41 (39.0 percent).
Golden State’s precision was on display with its offense: 56.2 percent shooting from the field, including 51.6 percent beyond the arc; 33 assists, with 13 turnovers.
Which may be related to how the team spent the two days since being blasted by the Clippers on Thursday in Los Angeles.
“This was a direct result of a couple days of practice and reflection and gathering our wits and understanding the situation that we were in having lost four in a row,” coach Steve Kerr said. “You can practice [competing], and we had a really good practice [Friday] where we did compete. We played a controlled scrimmage and really got after it at both ends.”
At issue now is whether the Warriors can generate some consistency. That’s the one element they’ve yet to find this season.
If they find it, they’re capable of reaching that No. 6 seed, the lowest available seed to avoid the play-in tournament.
If they don’t find it, the play-in tournament will be the best the Warriors can expect.
“Great win,” Green said. “But now it matters what we do coming out of this win. You look at this win and this can be a turning point for anyone’s season but if you don’t come out of this win playing the same type of inspired basketball, it doesn’t matter.”
When the hole is dug but the heart continues to beat, it’s premature to bury this season. This was a nice birthday gift for Curry, but plenty of season remains, 33 more games, beginning Monday night against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Sunday was a day of higher consequence, and the Warriors met the challenge. They now comprehend that performing at this level is their only chance at even modest success.