The Golden State Warriors had not played since April 24, enough time have rustiness as an excuse.
But there were no excuses Tuesday night, just solid execution from the Warriors in a 106-94 win over the Utah Jazz at Oracle Arena to take 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals.
Playing the Jazz, who thrive on playing a grinding style, the Warriors weren’t bothered most of the night, turning the ball over just seven times and getting balanced scoring.
“We picked up right where we left off,” said guard Stephen Curry of the team that swept Portland in the first round to earn the extended break. “I think our defense to start the first quarter gave us a chance to settle in offensively and find our rhythm.”
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The Jazz would love to slow the game down and prevent the Warriors from exploding on offense. But its not easy to keep Golden State from scoring, even when shooting 7 of 29 from 3-point range.
That’s because the Warriors still shot 48.8 percent for the game and managed 29 fast-break points to just six for the Jazz.
“I thought one of the things that we talked about going into the series was winning the possession game because they’re a good defensive team,” said Warriors acting coach Mike Brown. “And, you know, they thrive off of getting steals and getting the ball out in transition and scoring easy buckets against their defensive pressure.
“So we did a great job of taking care of the ball. Seven turnovers again is a franchise low. We tied the franchise record for seven turnovers in a playoff game. That was phenomenal.”
The Warriors never trailed Tuesday, looking the part of the top seed in the Western Conference.
Curry led the Warriors with 22 points and seven assists. Forward Draymond Green had 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and Kevin Durant finished with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Utah is a heavy underdog and certainly cannot pull off an upset without more from its best players.
All-Star forward Gordon Hayward scored 12 points, but shot just 4 of 15. Center Rudy Gobert had 13 points and eight rebounds, but the Jazz needs him to be dominant to have a shot at knocking off the Warriors. Also, point guard George Hill had just seven points and three assists.
Hayward will be vital if the Jazz hope to win Game 2 on Thursday. He is the player most capable of putting up a big scoring night for Utah.
The Jazz won Game 7 on the road Sunday at the Los Angeles Clippers, but Hayward said fatigue was not a reason for the slow start.
“I didn’t feel like Gordon was hesitant to shoot,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “There were a couple he didn’t make. They did a good job trying to limit his looks. But the couple clean ones he got, he was making those, and I would anticipate him making them. There’s more there than that. Shooting is a little bit of an equalizer, but we were outplayed.”
The Warriors reserves were also big factors. Golden State is at full strength with its rotation with Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries.
Golden State got a game-high seven assists off the bench from David West as it was the reserves who essentially put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.
“They’d go on a little run and every time they went on a run, it seemed like our guys locked in and responded, especially that second group,” Brown said. “That second group with Ian (Clark), Klay (Thompson), Andre (Iguodala), Draymond, David West. We thought both halves that group was really good for us.”
Thompson and Green are the only starters with that key second unit.