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The 68th win of the Warriors season came arduously. It took 53 minutes in all on the tail end of a back-to-back, including long nights for Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. Relatively basic passes out of pick-and-roll pressure were complicated by the invasive length of Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who made as positive an imprint on this game as a traditional center could. Golden State spent long stretches of the game searching for easy shots that never materialized. Everything the Warriors did was pressured, crowded and rushed, down to the very shots that ultimately gave the defending champions the lead for good. Golden State, which outlasted Utah to win 103–96 in overtime on Wednesday, was simply better equipped to handle contested, complicated basketball than its opponent.
A churning Jazz offense managed enough points for a modest lead but never a safe one. The difference was left at the free throw line; uncharacteristic 13-of-29 shooting from the stripe (including a combined 3-of-10 from the bigs) sunk a winning effort. A deliberate foul against Gobert even allowed the Warriors to make up ground and save crucial time down the stretch in regulation, bringing the game to balance at 85 with just more than two minutes remaining.
Utah made enough big plays to close the game out from there but perhaps not enough small ones. A Rodney Hood screen set up a killer Gordon Hayward three-pointer just moments after Curry missed his own long-range attempt. A timely strip on Curry derailed what seemed at the time to be a crucial Warriors possession. Yet every such swing was undone by missed foul shots, small missteps in execution and pivotal efforts from Golden State. All three came to a head at the end of regulation: Jazz guard Shelvin Mack missed a free throw with 24 seconds remaining that could have ensured a two-possession lead; Golden State’s 1-2 pick-and-roll created a clean look at a game-tying three for Klay Thompson; and a gutsy rebound and return from Shaun Livingston to Thompson gave the sharpshooter all the opportunity he needed. Jazz forward Joe Ingles, who had contested Thompson’s first game-tying attempt, leaked down-court at the worst possible time.
The thrill of a closing effort brought out the best in Draymond Green. Few defenders—if any—do so well in executing varied responsibilities with multiple efforts over the course of a single possession. Green makes it all appear natural, as if every player in the league could switch over to wall off an opposing point guard before sliding over to take away what could have been an uncontested layup. These wins are not only made possible by Green’s presence but by his incredible commitment. The slate will be wiped clean for the Warriors in two weeks. Still he busts his ass through play after play in a dogged pursuit of history, no matter that the Warriors were shorthanded (Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli did not play; Anderson Varejao and Marreese Speights might as well not have) and visibly sapped by the back-to-back turnaround.
Golden State’s cause was made easier with Derrick Favors’s early, unfortunate exit. An ankle sprain sustained in the second quarter had slowed Favors. It was a collision with Warriors center Andrew Bogut, however, that took him out of the game entirely.
Favors was diagnosed with a soreness in his right knee—suffered from the awkward fall—that would be re-evaluated come Thursday. In the 19 minutes he did play, Favors chipped in 15 points (on 7-of-11 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Jazz. The ensuing shift in the rotation cost Utah, even after accounting for the decent minutes rookie forward Trey Lyles was able to offer in Favors’s absence.
It is a testament to the current circumstances that this potential playoff preview registered primarily for its regular-season importance. With five more wins (out of seven remaining games) the Warriors would become the most accomplished regular-season team in NBA history. The verve and defense of the Jazz, impressive as it was on Wednesday, would not delay them.