SALT LAKE CITY — There was just one guy who didn’t come back.
And then he did — in the other team’s uniform.
So the Jazz have a ways to go.
In the second game of the season, the Jazz proved at least one thing: They don’t intend to concede to the Golden State Warriors. No matter what the odds.
The defending champs reiterated why they’ve won three NBA titles in four years with a 124-123 Friday win over the Jazz. Jonas Jerebko, the only non-holdover from last season’s Jazz, tipped in the game-winner for Golden State.
That’s how you do it when you’re world champions. The Warriors gave up 81 points in the first half and trailed by 15 in the third quarter.
So the Jazz’s spell on the Warriors ended at three games. Which in itself was quite mysterious. The Jazz aren’t nearly as flashy. They have five fewer All-Stars and three fewer championships in the modern era.
Nobody told them.
Which is why the Jazz are already showing they are a serious team to deal with in the Western Conference. Again, they gave the Warriors fits.
In 2017, Golden State dispatched Utah in the playoffs in four straight games. Put them in the regular season, though, and it has been a different story. The Jazz didn’t just win, last year, they eradicated.
You could chalk it up to style differences, for one. The careful, calculating, big-lineup Jazz are a far distance from the platinum-wearing Warriors. They’re the Lunch Pail Kids to the Warriors’ high-fashion parade. Last year the Jazz beat the Bay Boys three of four times, by an average of 30 points. But before an April 2017 Jazz win, the Warriors had won seven straight and 13 of 14.
With 80 games remaining, not much can be read into Friday’s Golden State win, except both teams are serious about their intentions.
It took exactly one night for the Warriors to confirm suspicions they are basketball’s most talent-laden team. Golden State dispatched a nice Oklahoma City team, 108-100, Tuesday. The box score included the usual cast of characters.
The only thing missing was a reinvented DeMarcus Cousins, the mercurial All-Star the Warriors added in the offseason just because they could. But he’s out indefinitely, recovering from a torn Achilles. Last year he had nine technical fouls — 16th most in the NBA. But that was over 48 games. This year’s teammate, Draymond Green, was second in technical fouls with 15 — but it took 70 games to get them.
Tuesday's Golden State win over the Thunder simply reiterated the obvious. Oklahoma City is rated the third-best team in the Western Conference. Although the game was close, the Thunder’s only lead was during a one-minute span in the third quarter.
The Warriors merely tapped the gas pedal when needed.
The Jazz came back from 15 behind on Wednesday against Sacramento but couldn’t hold their lead on Friday.
The game was an opportune way for the Jazz to open the home season, so it was no surprise the Vivint Arena crowd was amped. Utah was the only team in the league, last year, to beat the Warriors three times in the regular season.
In a departure from bygone years, there were no fireworks or smoke machines preceding Friday’s game. Who needs fireworks when there’s the Jazz and Warriors. There was a brief scuffle in the third quarter. The Jazz came two points shy of their record for points in a half, scoring 81 in the first two quarters. They led 81-69 at the break.
Joe Ingles did the welcoming honors, as teammates crowded around him before the game. He thanked and praised the fans, finishing with, “Go Jazz!”
That’s the Jazz of 2018: sell, sell, sell. And the fans did, did, did. There wasn’t an available seat.
Unlike a few years in which the Jazz opened the season in quietude, this one arrived as quiet as a sousaphone. On Friday, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell appeared in marketing and advertising campaigns for Vivint.SmartHome, entitled, “Dear Utah” and finishing with “Home is everything.”
P.T. Barnum couldn’t promote like this.
But all that hype was met by the Warriors with their usual cool detachment.1 comment on this story
Only a few times in Utah has the anticipation been higher than for this team, and never has it been so since the 1990s. That’s unique, because they have little chance to win a championship (don’t tell Rudy). This week’s FiveThirtyEight numbers gave the Jazz a 5 percent possibility at a title. That’s fifth highest among the league’s 30 teams. But the ESPN analytics website gives the Warriors a 48 percent chance.
So there you have it.
If the experts are right, the race for the Larry O’Brien Trophy will be as suspenseful as a cartoon.
The oddest part of the night might have been that the Jazz shot 17 first-quarter free throws, making 15 of them, to lead 34-32.
They started out 1-11 on 3-point shots but then made 10 of the last 13 of the first half.
It wasn’t enough.
As Friday proved, you can’t ever have too much against the Warriors.