The Golden State Warriors looked mortal for the first time in this playoff run in Game 3. Behind poor shooting nights from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors surrendered the lead for the first time this postseason late in the second quarter and trailed Utah 50-49 at halftime. Utah pushed the lead to as large as nine points (62-53) in the third quarter. They trailed 72-70 entering the fourth quarter and had a chance to steal a game from the Warriors on their home floor.
However, Golden State took control on both ends in the final period. They came away with another double-digit win in a 102-91 victory that only reached double-digits late in that fourth quarter.
With a 3-0 series lead, the Warriors have all but secured a berth in the Western Conference Finals. While they might drop Game 4 in Utah, the Jazz had every chance to win in Game 3 but were not able to capitalize. Here are some trends for this game that will be important for Golden State as they continue their playoff march.
1. Kevin Durant Dominating
The Utah Jazz needed a stellar game from Gordon Hayward to win in Game 3. Hayward did piece together a strong game, finishing with 29 points on 18 shots and leading the Jazz with six assists in the absence of George Hill.
However, this matchup was controlled by the other All-Star small forward. Kevin Durant finished with 38 points and 13 rebounds, leading the Warriors in both categories. It was not just his scoring total that stood out, but rather how he got to that total. Durant finished the game with only two of his 15 makes coming from layups or dunks. Instead, he did most of his damage with his jump shot:
There is basically nothing that any team can do to slow down Durant when he is as hot as he was last night. Hayward plays perfect defense on Durant while contesting this jumper, and it just didn't make any difference. Durant managed to scorch the nets despite poor performances from the other offensive stars alongside him. The Warriors needed a game like this from Durant to win Game 3, and these kinds of game will become even more imperative for them as their playoff slate continues to get more difficult.
2. Backcourt Woes
Kevin Durant's brilliance in this game took some of the sting out of two terrible performances from Golden State's All-NBA backcourt. Klay Thompson missed all four of his looks from deep and ended the night with six points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field. He even drew some deserved ribbing from Zaza Pachulia:
Stephen Curry did not fare much better for most of the night. Curry made just four of his 18 shots through three-quarters including a disastrous 1-of-9 mark from deep. Without George Hill to lock him down, Curry should have been able to do far more damage against the Jazz. While a lot of credit should go to Shelvin Mack for his dogged defense, Curry cannot afford to have an off-night when he is lucky enough to get to go against backup point guards all night long.
Curry did manage to salvage his otherwise miserable night by making both of his threes and five free throws in the fourth quarter to raise his tally to 23 points. He also deserves a lot of credit for not turning the ball over once all night. However, he and his backcourt mate have to be feeling lucky right now that Kevin Durant controlled the game and saved them from some embarrassing next-day headlines.
3. The Battle Inside
After struggling in Game 1, Rudy Gobert has put together two solid performances. He finished Game 3 with 21 points on eight shots and a game-high 15 rebounds. While his 7-of-15 mark from the free throw line was troubling, he did help lead Utah to a 38-34 advantage in terms of points in the paint.
Gobert showed the blueprint for how teams can limit the Warriors; his dominance of Golden State's overmatched center crop was apparent in tonight's game. If Kevin Durant had not gone crazy from mid-range (the exact type of shot that any team should be happy to surrender to the Warriors), then this game probably would have swung Utah's way. While the Warriors did manage to successfully create opportunities for Durant to attack Gobert off the dribble, leading to a number of pull-up jumpers, the Jazz will take those looks on defense over getting picked apart inside or behind the arc.
This Game 3 indicates that Utah still has a good chance of winning Game 4. They might have George Hill back for that game, which if nothing else would have helped keep Curry in check in that fourth quarter and boosted Utah's own offenses.
That being said, this Game 3 was representative of everything that the Jazz would have to hope for if they wanted to take a game from Golden State. They kept the pace down, limited the Warriors' star backcourt, and got great games from both Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert--and still lost by 11 points. Game 4 may come down to whether the Warriors want to go for the throat and sweep the Jazz on their home floor. If Golden State does come out of the gates aggressive on Monday night, the Jazz will have little to no chance of keeping their season alive.