Warriors finish off sweep of Jazz, await Rockets or Spurs in West Finals
SALT LAKE CITY — Just like they did to the Blazers two weeks earlier, the Warriors punched the Jazz in the mouth to start Game 4, putting what seemed to be an early cap on their closing statement.
But unlike the Blazers, the tougher Jazz clawed back and forced the Warriors to at least work into the fourth quarter, before Golden State eventually exterminated Utah’s season: a 121-95 final, another Warriors’ 4-0 sweep and an advancement to their third straight Western Conference Finals.
Now they await the winner of the Rockets and Spurs series, which sits at 2-2. If it ends in six, the West Finals start in Oracle Arena on Sunday. If it extends to seven, the West Finals start in Oracle on Tuesday.
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Either way, a rested, steamrolling Warriors team will be awaiting as monster favorites, having won 23 of their last 24 games dating back to mid-March and all eight of their playoff games by margins of 12, 29, 6, 25, 12, 11, 11 and 26 points.
But there were at least tiny moments of adversity on Monday night.
Early on, it didn’t look like it’d be that way. After hitting only one shot in a slow Game 3, Klay Thompson opened the scoring with a pair of jumpers. Then Steph Curry hit a pair of 3s. Then Kevin Durant found Curry on a creative give-and-go layup on a baseline out of bounds play.
Meanwhile, the Jazz offense slumped against a locked in Warriors defense, missing their first 10 two-point shots and going only 6-of-25 in the first quarter. A 12-3 lead became a 21-7 lead became a 39-17 first quarter cushion — similar to the 45-22 first quarter they popped on the Blazers in Game 4.
But Utah responded with a 14-2 flurry to start the second quarter, slicing through a now too relaxed Warriors defense as a sluggish David West failed to protect the rim. Derrick Favors rammed a dunk on Draymond Green — the first time Green has rotated over, met an opponent at the rim and lost — and then electric young point guard Dante Exum hammered one home.
The Jazz parlayed that strong second quarter start with an 8-0 close, trimming the Warriors lead from 22 down all the way to eight by halftime. Then in the third quarter, they briefly kept it close. After a defensive breakdown led to a Shelvin Mack 3, which cut it to seven, Durant and Curry chirped at each other about the breakdown. Mike Brown called timeout. On his way to the huddle, a frustrated Curry kicked a seat cushion into the stands.
But that moment of pressure only refocused a Warriors team that proved far superior to the Jazz in the second round.
Out of the timeout, JaVale McGee hit a twisting layup and a rare jumper. Draymond Green hit his third 3 of the game and 20th in eight playoff games, turning and staring at a heckling fan in a light blue shirt behind the Warriors bench that had been heckling him.
Golden State’s defense locked back in and its offense erupted again. If there was an offensive star to be chosen — and you had your choice of many — it was Curry, who efficiently put the Jazz to sleep with 30 points on 15 shots. In his 35 minutes, the Warriors outscored the Jazz by 35 points.
Durant wasn’t nearly as productive as Game 4, when he popped 38 points, but his 18 points in this one were pretty timely. During one of Utah’s second quarter runs, he stemmed the tide with a pair of jumpers. Then during a third quarter spurt, he silenced the noise again with a big wing 3 followed by a lob dunk, set up by Draymond Green.
Durant finished with 18, Green had 17, Thompson had 21 on 16 shots and McGee was the fifth Warrior in double-figures, putting up 12 points in 11 minutes off the bench without even using his trusty lob game.
And while the Jazz held sturdy at times, there really was never any doubt. Utah didn’t lead for a second in Game 1, Game 2 or the closeout Game 4, only sneaking ahead for about eight minutes in Game 3, before ceding it right back to the dominant Warriors, who roll on to the Conference Finals.