SALT LAKE CITY — With the Golden State Warriors now 19-0 after a 106-103 edging of the Utah Jazz, a victorious Stephen Curry and Draymond Green gathered themselves at neighboring lockers. Their celebratory laughs were punctuated by Green belting out the same Rick Ross chorus: “Everyday I’m hustlin’, Everyday I’m hustlin’.”
That was fitting after a victory that might well have been the Warriors’ most difficult. They were playing at altitude — without Harrison Barnes and with Curry battling a sinus illness — against a Jazz team that seeks to garble a game’s rhythm. Utah played well and forced the Warriors to play Jazz basketball. In the end, it wasn’t enough, because the Warriors had Curry and Green.
Curry began the close out and Green sealed it with an inexplicable rebound. With the Warriors winning by a point with under eight seconds to go, a Rodney Hood jump shot caromed in Green’s vicinity. Green had already done yeoman’s work in boxing out athletic marvel Derrick Favors. What he couldn’t account for, though, was Rudy Gobert sprinting in with his 9-foot-7 standing reach.
“I had pretty good position for a minute on Favors, and then Gobert came flying out of nowhere,” Green said. “I guess I just wanted the ball a little more.”
He must have. Gobert plucked the ball from the fray like a massive French arcade prize claw. But before he could fully secure it, Green dislodged the rock, tapping it to himself between Gobert and Gordon Hayward. Then, while falling out of bounds, Green flipped the loot toward Curry to end the game.
“It was amazing,” Curry interjected when Green was asked about the timely board. “Quote end quote.”
The Warriors play a beautiful brand of basketball, but hustle plays like these are just as much a part of their oeuvre. Plays like these are also why Green should be an All-Star candidate to anyone who is paying attention.
As for Curry, he’s still doing what he does. The Jazz threw enough defensive pressure at Curry to direct offense elsewhere but couldn’t contain him in the last six minutes. With the Warriors down by three with 6:36 to go, Curry checked in, snagged a defensive rebound and promptly drained a 3-pointer on one of his signature abbreviated fast breaks.
His biggest shot might have been the one that put the Warriors up three with under a minute left. It came off a Curry-Klay Thompson pick-and-roll, an action they rarely dip into.
“They switched, which was probably the best way to guard that play,” Curry said of the sequence. “But I was able to act like I was turning the corner and get him off balance, and I was in rhythm once I got it to my spot, and thankfully it went in.”
Interim Warriors coach Luke Walton explained, “We don’t use it a ton, because there’s not a ton of ball movement in that play. It’s kind of a quick hitter we like to use when appropriate, but it’s two pretty dangerous players that are involved.”
Thompson’s play was a reminder of how dangerous he can be, draining four 3-pointers and adding 20 points in a rugged game. The Warriors also received contributions from reserve guard Ian Clark, who sank four 3-pointers against his former squad. Center Festus Ezeli was vital down the stretch when Walton decided to stay big against a massive Jazz front line.
That aspect of the win is also notable. The Warriors molded themselves to Utah’s style, not the other way around. Walton indicated it would have been different with a healthy Barnes, but on this day, Utah forced Golden State to adjust.
That was an accomplishment for the Jazz, just not one that resulted in tangible reward. On this night, when that reward was in variance, Green snatched it up. Even when they do everything perfectly, the grace of Curry and the hustle of Green exceed perfection. Maybe, eventually, that won’t be so, but for now, it’s 19-0 — and counting.