Los Angeles—Jonas Jerebko executed a clutch tip in with 0.3 seconds left against his former team to lift the Golden State Warriors to a 124-123 win over the Utah Jazz on Friday.
Kevin Durant scored 38 points and Stephen Curry tallied 31, while Sweden’s Jerebko came off the bench to score 10 and the game winner in a wild contest in front of a crowd of 18,300.
“My teammates knew this was a big game for me coming back here. I wanted to win and told them I really wanted this one,” said Jerebko.
The Jazz built a big lead by scoring 47 points in the second quarter but Golden State clawed their way back into it with a strong second half, led by Curry.
The defending NBA champion Warriors are favoured to win their third title in a row but many wondered how they would do Friday against the Jazz’s lockdown defence at the Vivint Smart arena.
Utah was the only team last year to beat Golden State three times.
Journeyman Jerebko, who also played for the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons, joined the Warriors in the offseason after being let go by the Jazz.
“He had a little bit of juice and fire coming here to Utah to show up his old teammates,” said Curry of Jerebko.
On the Warriors’ final possession of the game, Durant attempted a jump shot from the free-throw line which rattled off the rim but Jerebko was right there to outmuscle Rudy Gobert for the winner.
“I took the ball out, so I knew I was going to give it to K.D. and I knew he was going to shoot it, so I just tried to get to the rim,” Jerebko said.
Durant wished he had made the shot but he was also pleased for Jerebko.
“Jonas was there in the right place at the right time,” Durant said. “It was very fitting that he comes back here and gets the game-winning tip. We were very excited for him.”
Australia’s Joe Inglis led the Jazz with 27 points while Donovan Mitchell, who was runner-up for rookie of the year last season, scored 19 in the loss.
Mitchell launched a desperation shot at the buzzer but there wasn’t enough time on the clock to properly execute the catch-and-shoot play.
Elsewhere, Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 26 points and 15 rebounds as Milwaukee Bucks tried out their new long-range attack in their home opener Friday to beat the Indiana Pacers 118-101.
Khris Middleton delivered 25 points for the Bucks who attempted a franchise record 47 shots from beyond the arc.
First year Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said they are trying to be aggressive and create space for three-point attempts.
“If there’s going to be rotations, there’s going to be helps, there’s going to be shifts, and there’s opportunities to shoot threes, then we’ll take those,” he said.
Victor Oladipo scored 25 points and Doug McDermott added 14 for the Pacers in the loss.
The Bucks stretched their lead to 93-76 at the end of the third quarter after leading 62-53 at the half.
Milwaukee ranked 25th in the NBA last season with 24.7 three-point attempts per game. They finished 17 of 47 on Friday, with Antetokounmpo missing all seven he launched.
Milwaukee drained 14 of 34 three point attempts as they beat Charlotte 113-112 in their season opener on Wednesday.
Antetokounmpo said the long-range assault is part of their game plan now.
“That comes from the coach,” said Antetokounmpo. “He wants to shoot the ball. Like, I was zero for seven today, but I’m going to keep shooting.”
In Toronto, Kawhi Leonard had 15 of his 31 points in the third quarter to power the Toronto Raptors to a 113-101 victory over the Celtics.
Leonard grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds for the Raptors who are undefeated in the new 2018-19 NBA season.
Serge Ibaka had 21 points, while Kyle Lowry had 15 points, six assists and five rebounds.
In Minneapolis, Jimmy Butler, who has been the object of scorn from Timberwolves fans for saying he will not resign for next season, scoring 33 points to lead the Minnesota past the Cleveland Cavaliers 131-123.