The Warriors were up 16, just six minutes and change away from handily taking out the best team in the NBA. But that would be too easy.
Luckily, they also have Stephen Curry, who was able to put the Utah Jazz away Monday 119-116 despite a late scare.
The Jazz (50-19) climbed on the back of Jordan Clarkson and came all the way back to take a two-point lead with just over a minute to go in the game. But a clutch 3 from Curry after a game-saving offensive rebound by Kevon Looney was just enough to stave off another late-game collapse.
The end of the game might have been frantic for the Warriors (36-33), but they started out in total control.
It’s more who can rotate the hardest, or who can muck up the opposing offense the most. Green spearheaded a defense that held the team who makes the most 3-pointers in the NBA to just 29 percent from deep. But it also sparked Green’s offense.
He came out a man possessed with 10 points in the first quarter, drilling an early shot clock 3 with no hesitation and dribbling into a post-up not without even looking to kick out.
He finished the quarter shooting 4-of-6, which is incredibly significant as he failed to put up that many shots in 25 full games this season.
While Stephen Curry may be the explosion, Green is the spark that ignites it. And although he only scored two more points during the last 36 minutes of the game, his early outburst was enough of to propel the Warriors for the rest of the game.
That’s been the key to Golden State’s success, getting out to good starts. You usually see it from Curry just like last game against the Thunder, but a Green scoring run is just as inspiring, maybe even more so since it’s such a rare sight.
It was such a sight that it made Curry’s 36 seem quiet. The Jazz and namely Royce O’Neale did a admirable job shadowing Curry and making his night tough, mixing in doubles, top locks and good contests on the backside of his 3’s.
For the most part Utah kept Curry in check, in the sense that he didn’t erupt for an insane scoring run like he has in his recent games. Curry finished 3-of-13 from 3, but was able to push his point total higher with 11 free throws.
Twelve of those points came after halftime, when Bazemore may or may not have been aware of Bradley Beal coming after him on Twitter.
Beal took exception to Bazemore’s comments about chasing the scoring title and unleashed a string of tweets insulting the Warriors guard.
While that was happing off the court, Bazemore was putting up his best performance on the court in the month of May.
And it came in a game the Warriors desperately needed. Just after tipoff, news came down that the Warriors clinched a spot in the play-in with the Pelicans loss Monday.
The bad news though is that Memphis was the team that beat them. The Grizzlies keep putting the pressure on Golden State for that eighth spot.
If the Warriors weren’t able to sneak a game against the conference-leading Jazz or second-place Suns in a 48-hour span, their hold on the eighth spot would have become tenuous.
But with their win, they stay a half game up on the Grizzlies, with their May 16 matchup setting up a winner-take-all game for the eighth seed.
They still need every win down the stretch, but that half game gives the Warriors a smidge of breathing room, and they need every sliver in this fight.
The Suns await the Warriors less than 24 hours after this nail-biter. Phoenix is looking to rebound after losing to a shorthanded Lakers team Sunday and will be hungry to gain a game on the Jazz for the fight for first in the conference.
Kevon Looney pulled in 13 rebounds and has now pulled in double-digit rebounds in three straight games. Looney is essentially the only center on the Warriors active roster right now but is holding down that center spot, while playing a heavy minute load.