Utah Jazz: Surprise! Surprise! These Golden State Warriors are playing tough (+video)
Ben Brewer, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Wait just a minute. This can't be right, can it?
Just take a look at the current NBA standings, and whad'ya see? Yep, sure enough, there's that unfamiliar name "Golden State" sitting way up among the best teams in the Western Conference this season.
It's almost like an entry straight out of "Ripley's Believe It or Not." But believe it, fans — it might seem sorta strange, but it's definitely true.
Golden State certainly made believers out of Utah on Wednesday night, as the Warriors surprised the Jazz 94-83 before a stunned crowd of 19,404 at EnergySolutions Arena.
And, in all honesty, it really wasn't that close. Golden State led by 20 points, 90-70, with 4:17 remaining before a closing 13-4 run by Utah made it much more respectable at the final buzzer.
It was just the third home-court loss of the season for the Jazz, who were missing feisty starting point guard Mo Williams and turned in a "Bah, humbug!" lackluster effort to give their fans a losing lump of coal the day after Christmas.
With Stephen Curry lighting them up for 18 of his game-high 23 points in the first half, and the Warriors hitting a slick 9-of-18 shots from 3-point range, the visitors came away with a double-digit victory despite shooting just 40.2 percent overall from the field.
"It was a great overall team effort," said Golden State coach Mark Jackson, who spent one season of his 17-year NBA career as a backup point guard with the Jazz. "We defended, held them to a season-low 83 points, paid attention to details. We played at our pace and it was just a quality win against a good team — especially good at home.
"We made shots. We defended. We rebounded the basketball. And we understood how they could hurt us. Our guys did a great job of following the game plan, taking care of the basketball and not allowing them to dominate the paint and dominate the boards."
With Wednesday's win over the Jazz, the Warriors are an impressive 11-6 on the road and 19-10 overall this season, sitting fifth in the West — several games ahead of the up-and-down Jazz (15-15).
"You're used to seeing them at the bottom end of the totem pole, and now they're right there in the middle in the thick of things," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said of the Warriors. "They get out there and they play hard every game."
Looking back over the last 29 NBA seasons, Golden State has finished with a better record than Utah just once — 2004-05, when the Jazz went a woeful 26-56 and the Warriors were a not-quite-as-lousy 34-48. Since 1983, the two franchises have finished with the same regular-season record twice.
But every other year over that span, the Jazz have put together a better regular-season showing than did the Warriors, who have only managed seven winning records in the last 29 years — and just two of them over the last 18 seasons.
This year's early-season showing is certainly a far cry from the last three decades, when the Warriors were generally among the league's also-rans and, from time to time, put together some embarrassing bottom-feeder records like 17-65, 19-63 (twice), 20-62, 21-61, 22-60, 26-56 (three times), 29-53, 30-52 a couple of times and 23-43 in last year's lockout-shortened season.
But, hey, it looks like that's all in the past now. Wednesday's win was only the Warriors' 17th in 80 all-time trips to Salt Lake City, where they'll meet again Feb. 19.
"They've got a great coach over there," said Utah center Al Jefferson. "They've got some great players. They've got their confidence up. They believe in themselves. And they're playing well.
"They're a very unselfish team. They move the ball well. Guys pass up open shots to get a better shot. And that's the way you have to play basketball.
"Mark Jackson is a heck of a coach and was a heck of a player when he was in the league, so I'm not surprised," Jefferson said. "They play hard on every possession."
That's something this inconsistent Jazz ballclub is still learning to do.
And until they do, and do it every night, home and away, there will be more nights like this.
And no, you needn't call Mr. Ripley to verify it.
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