Friday was a great night for NBA basketball, capped off with a barnburner between the Jazz and Warriors in Salt Lake City. Some considered this a (very) early Western Conference Finals preview. If so, beam me to May already. This game was wild.
Here are six things that made it so.
1. The Jazz were up 81-69 ... at halftime.
That’s not a typo: the defense-first Jazz, playing against the two-time defending world champions, put up 81 points in the first half. Utah hit 11 threes through 24 minutes and had five players in double figures, led by Joe Ingles’ 14. The first quarter was choppy with lots of fouls, but the Jazz played clean with just six turnovers and quick pace. And they dropped a franchise record 81 points in the first half!
2. Joe Ingles had a career night.
Ingles has blossomed into a top-100 player in the league. He actually might even be higher. He dropped a career high 27 on 10-15 shooting (7-11 from three), and really nearly saved the Jazz as the Warriors completed comeback in the fourth — Utah was +3 in Ingles’ 10 fourth quarter minutes and -7 in the two minutes he sat. The Jazz utterly depended on him, especially with Donovan Mitchell’s offense falling apart in the second half.
Also, there was this buzzer beater to end the third. Banks are open late in SLC.
we call that joe ingles distance, ladies and gentlemen pic.twitter.com/mNMFl57wgA— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) October 20, 2018
3. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry were at their best.
It’s still breathtaking to watch Durant and Curry play together when they are both cooking. Durant was especially electric in the first half, trying to keep the Warriors within striking distance of the zipping Jazz. KD had 24 on 9-13 shooting at the break. Curry was especially crucial in the third quarter comeback, dropping 16 on 7-11 shooting in the period.
Mood because we're on a 15-2 run pic.twitter.com/UqFMpPIzQ3— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) October 20, 2018
Neither could quite finish the job, though: Curry missed a go-ahead lay-up with 29 seconds left and Durant missed the game-winning jumper in the closing seconds. (We’ll get to that.)
4. Seven lead changes in final 6-1/2 minutes, and three in final two minutes.
A see-saw affair with everyone on the edge of their seats!
OMG THIS GAME IS INSANE.— SLC Dunk Is Everything (@slcdunk) October 20, 2018
5. Jonas Jerbeko’s revenge.
With all eyes on KD and Steph, Jerebko was able to slip into space to get Durant’s rebound and put it back in just before the buzzer to save the night for the Warriors.
The Jazz had waived Jerebko in July, so the game-winner was surely extra sweet. The reason Utah waived him? Partly for salary cap and roster size issues, partly because coach Quin Snyder knew he couldn’t guarantee Jerebko (a solid rotation player) minutes. The Swede quickly signed a minimum deal with the Warriors after clearing waivers (it’s not clear why no other team claimed him before Golden State could swoop in on the cheap — teams are really hesitant to claim players off of waivers for some reason).
In his second game with his new team, facing the team that waived him in the summer, the dude hit a game-winner. Pretty nice.
6. This rivalry is real.
After the bucket, the Warriors — these guys with 2-3 championships and Olympic gold medals, a couple of them with MVPs and Finals MVPs — absolutely mobbed Jerebko.
Salt Lake City is a tough place to play right now — the crowd is always up and the Jazz are really good. The Warriors were against the wall and felt the heat all night long. The comeback was classic Golden State, but it wasn’t nearly as easy as it usually is: the Warriors needed every second of regulation to get over the top.
That celebration was a huge opportunity to bond with one of their new players, an amiable veteran from another continent. The Warriors are good and smart, and took it. But there was also a little relief in there, a little salvation that they didn’t give Utah just an ounce more confidence going into the next 80 games and the playoffs beyond.
The Warriors have heard people talk about the Jazz as a potential threat over the past two years. That exuberant celebration after Game 2 of 82 was raw and real. The Warriors respect the Jazz and, while they probably don’t fear anyone at this point, they sure are glad to have beat them on Friday.
There are no moral victories in sports, but even in defeat Utah declared it was ready to give the Warriors fits this year. The next game in this series is December 19.