The short-handed Golden State Warriors fell in dramatic and depressing fashion on Wednesday night, losing 124-123 to the Utah Jazz after a turnover paved the way for a game-winning dunk just before the final buzzer. Here are three key reactions to the short-handed Warriors’ horrible yet overall encouraging defeat.
Horrible loss, encouraging performance
The Warriors trailed 98-86 late in the third quarter, victim to red-hot Jazz three-point shooting. They were down nine points with 7:37 left, absent their three best players on the road against a team that entered Wednesday’s game 8-4 at home, owning a distinct advantage in altitude of the Wasatch Mountains.
But Golden State clawed back to steal a victory regardless, fighting hard from the opening tip and out-playing Utah for the first few minutes of crunch time. The Warriors led 123-119 after Jordan Poole split two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining on the game clock, seemingly en route to a feel-good win in the truest sense of the term before Saturday’s clash at Chase Center with the league-leading Boston Celtics.
That’s what matters more than anything else—how Golden State got to a two-possession lead in Salt Lake City at a point of the game that should’ve meant it was over.
LOOK AT THIS pic.twitter.com/8mLVftpxVb
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) December 8, 2022
Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s swipe-down steal of Jordan Poole with the Warriors nursing a 123-122 lead and Simone Fontecchio’s game-winning dunk with one second left focuses too much on the result of a contest everyone expected the Warriors to lose. Golden State’s process on Wednesday was encouraging from the outset, and several players—including Donte DiVincenzo, Anthony Lamb and Moses Moody, though the latter just in flashes—put together standout individual performances that suggest very good things to come when this team is a full-strength.
The Warriors’ loss to Utah shouldn’t have happened, and could absolutely affect them come time for playoff seeding. Zoom out further, though. Golden State’s effort was by far its best of the season without Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins, the type that portends team-wide improvement over the season’s remainder.
Peak (for now) Jonathan Kuminga
Jonathan Kuminga’s early-season turnaround began with a zero-shot, zero-point performance in a well-earned home win over the Utah Jazz. Just under two weeks later, moonlighting as a primary option, Kuminga showed the Jazz a much different side of his game—and Dub Nation just how impactful he can be at his current peak.
Kuminga was easily the Warriors’ best player against Utah, showing off the ability to both thrive in his current role and dream bigger about his next one.
He finished with 24 points and four assists on 10-of-14 shooting, bullying his way to the rim for high-flying finishes, beating overmatched defenders in schemed isolations and making an impact in transition. Kuminga went 1-of-3 from beyond the arc, evidence of him playing within his current skill set and Golden State’s system. He was just as good on the other end, stymying both Jordan Clarkson and Kelly Olynyk one-one-one in the clutch while making sound help rotations and doing dirty work on the glass all game long.
C L U T C H 🔒 pic.twitter.com/uAIjMZNogc
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) December 8, 2022
Kuminga, obviously, isn’t ready to be a star. Few 20-year-olds are. But he can certainly “star” in his supporting role with the defending champions like he did on Wednesday, even when Curry, Green and Wiggins return.
There was nothing in Kuminga’s performance against the Jazz that can’t be duplicated. His overall play, believe it or not, is even more encouraging than the Warriors’ giveaway of a loss is disappointing.
Jordan Poole’s slump is over
Forget Poole’s awful last-second turnover. He still needs to tighten his handle and be stronger with the ball, but that was the case well before Alexander-Walker’s perfect strip of the ball at the perfect time. Large as it may loom in the standings by season’s end, that possession won’t change the trajectory of Golden State’s season.
What will? Poole clearly having broken out of his early-season rut. He dropped 36 points, four rebounds and eight assists on the Jazz, unleashed as the Warriors’ alpha dog. He’s been awesome as a starter all season long, but it was easy to assume Poole might struggle on Wednesday given the lack of overall talent surrounding him—just as he did as leader of Golden State’s second unit before his playmaking burdens were eased.
But he looked plenty comfortable playing undisputed alpha dog against Utah, getting wherever he wanted off the dribble, hitting an array of crazy-difficult pull-up jumpers and deep floaters while generally not monopolizing the ball. Poole went 12-of-13 from the free throw line, indicative of his concerted effort to crease the paint. He’d have reached 40 points easily if not for 4-of-13 three-point shooting in an otherwise impressive shot-making performance.
that's toughhhhh, JP ⚡️
📺 @NBCSAuthentic pic.twitter.com/bc0EHChdLm
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) December 8, 2022
Poole is averaging 23.1 points and 5.6 assists in his last seven games, with a gaudy true shooting percentage of 63.3. It’s also clear that recent stretch isn’t the product of an unsustainable hot hand; Poole is shooting a slightly above-average 36.9% from three over that timeframe, right in line with expectations.
The Warriors weren’t going anywhere this season unless Poole was the dynamic offensive presence he was during a breakout 2021-22. He’s slowly but surely reached that level of late, with still more room to get better.