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What wins vs. Jazz, Suns say about Dubs' lightly tested vets

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Porter shooting

The Warriors of recent years have exhibited several positive tendencies, and one of them is the third-quarter frenzy, when they summon their best to extend leads, wipe out deficits and sometimes squeeze the will out of opponents.

The Utah Jazz would not allow it Saturday night in Salt Lake City, stealing that script by erasing a 14-point halftime deficit and putting the Warriors in a five-point hole entering the fourth. 

The Warriors’ will didn’t waver. They adjusted. The frenzy came in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys who have been out there, and they’re not fazed by the pressure,” coach Steve Kerr said of the 123-116 comeback win at Vivint Arena.

The New Year’s Day victory over the Jazz in Utah, coming one week after a Christmas Day win over the Suns in Phoenix – both venues offering a reasonable simulation of a postseason environment – leave no doubt which Western Conference team has separated itself as the season approaches the halfway point.

“If we go with the right approach and execute defensively and don’t turn the ball over, we can beat anybody,” Stephen Curry said. “It’s just a matter of our execution and guys stepping up – the next-man-up mentality – no matter who gets the opportunity.

“It’s a good confidence builder to be in these types of settings on the road, to get wins like this and show who we are. But we’ve got to remind ourselves throughout the rest of the season what it takes to win game like this, for everybody to feel the intensity is like. Our DNA is built on chasing championships, and you’ve got to win games like we have to get that done.”

 

The Warriors won in Phoenix without Andrew Wiggins and Andre Iguodala. They won in Utah without Draymond Green, the heart of the roster, who was locked inside the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

So, they brewed up a concoction that was near-equal parts Curry, Otto Porter Jr., Wiggins and Iguodala. The four veterans accounted for 32 of Golden State’s 37 points in the fourth, and played the heaviest fourth-quarter minutes while holding the Jazz to 25 points on 41.7-percent shooting.

“It’s a testament to them that they came back the way they did,” Iguodala said. “But it really says something about who we are.”

These Warriors are a mix of most everything that can be thrown onto an NBA roster, with a group of lightly tested veterans – Wiggins and Porter in particular – lined up to play significant roles.

Wiggins, labeled a disappointment in Minnesota, came in hungry and now is finding the best of himself. He scored 25 points and was key to stifling Utah star Donavan Mitchell (4-of-19 shooting, 2-of-7 in the fourth). Porter, back on the league map with the incentive of a one-year minimum contract, is thriving for the first time in four years. He contributed 20 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

Iguodala, back for his career finale, wants to prove he still has game. His statement to Utah – 12 points, eight assists, seven rebounds in 24 minutes – make a convincing case.

“They’re talented and they’re gamers and they understand they’re going to have to play like that for us to do special things this year,” Curry said. “The opportunity is there, so it’s a matter of going through the reps.”

This is why the Warriors have been at or near the top of the NBA all season. At a league-best 28-7, they’ve outplayed rational expectation and are coming off two impressive statements.

“The win tonight and the one in Phoenix speak to our depth and the overall strength of the roster, the versatility of the roster,’ Kerr said. That’s really on a lot of levels. The versatility, the ability for us to play a lot of lineups. But also, it’s the character of the group. 

“The fact that we have so many guys who are single-minded in terms of wanting to win and compete, and are willing to take a back seat when it’s not their night and then be ready to play when it is.”

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Draymond will return next week, perhaps as soon as Monday. And five-time All-Star Klay Thompson, who has not played in 31 months, will make his season debut in the coming days.

The Warriors have every reason to believe they have not come close to glimpsing their best. Seems almost unfair.

 

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