The Warriors averted leaving a giant lump of coal in their fans’ stockings with a comfortable 94-83 boxing day victory over the Utah Jazz. That win, on the road, stopped a growing panic caused by two ugly losses: an ugly no-show against the Kings, and a 4th quarter collapse against the hated Lakers.
Those losses played right into the entirely reasonable fears surrounding this team. The team, having now lost twice to both the Kings and the Magic, has a bad habit of not delivering against some of the weaker teams on the schedule. With the western conference looking like a dogfight, the team simply can’t afford to throw wins away.
The Lakers loss, on the other hand, was troubling in a completely different way. The team gave up 34 points in the fourth quarter, squandering a 13-point lead on the way toward losing the game in overtime. As we’ve seen far too often in the fourth quarter, the team gave up crucial offensive rebounds and turned the ball over too much. The defense wilted when the pressure was on.
Often this year, the Warriors have found ways to pull out those games, but the law of averages always catches up to you. If you let your opponents sneak back into games, they’ll start winning them.
So the victory in Utah was a much-needed salve. Not only did the Warriors avoid a 4th-quarter collapse (finding a way to get rare minutes for D-league yo-yos Kent Bazemore and Jeremy Tyler) but they secured a win against one of the teams it’s most important for the Warriors to beat. They showed toughness and shut down comeback runs with strong defense and rebounding.
One of the things that gives fans of this team hope as the season wears on is that we’re winning without it ever really feeling like the team is firing on all cylinders. Yes, Stephen Curry and David Lee are having career years, clearly worthy of all-star selections.
But Klay Thompson has struggled, still getting caught in no-mans land when he tries to extend his game beyond shooting off screens. Harrison Barnes, who’s trajectory seemed to be leaping upwards in October and November, has regressed badly. Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry alternate big games with poor ones, and Draymond Green is shooting under .300.
So Warrior fans are torn. Is this a team that, when firing on all cylinders, can go toe-to-toe with Memphis, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City? Or is it smoke and mirrors, lucky breaks, and catching teams at the right time - likely to crack the moment they go up against the real contenders?
We’re going to have to wait and see.