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Jazz Passing Offers Glimpse Of Team’s Contender Potential

Utah Jazz’s Joe Ingles shoots the ball in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, in Minneapolis. Stacy Bengs, AP

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The Utah Jazz were in desperate need of a victory, but not just any regular win — they needed to play well for a full game, flex the muscles they added this summer by signing a team full of shooters, and thoroughly dismantle an opposing team. 

The Minnesota Timberwolves looked all too happy to help, and the Jazz left the Twin Cities with a 127-116 victory. 

The Jazz found a rhythm they hadn’t shown at any point over the last eight games, a stretch that saw them win just two games, and simply washed away a fast sinking Timberwolves team with furious passing and hot shooting. 

The Story

After losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday night in Salt Lake City, Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, and Donovan Mitchell all mentioned the Jazz lack of communication as a key for the loss. 

“I think we’ve just got to stick together, and there’s got to be communication,” Gobert said after the loss.

After dismantling Minnesota, Gobert was quick to point out what had changed over the last 48 hours. 

“We moved the ball, we got physical when we needed, and communication was there tonight for the most part.” 

The Jazz took control of the game in the third quarter thanks to a brilliant stretch of passing that left Minnesota scrambling to find open shooters. The Jazz connected on four three-pointers in the first 4:01 of the third quarter while adding a Bojan Bogdanovic lay-up and a Gobert dunk, building a 75-67 lead and the Jazz never looked back.

“We talked a lot about moving the ball, and its something that we’ve done and guys spacing so we can move it,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.

Eight of the first nine baskets of the second half were assisted, and the Jazz finished the third quarter with 11 assists on 14 field goals. 

By the end of the third quarter, the Jazz had built 97-83 lead and coasted to an easy victory. 

“We played together, moved the ball, shared the ball, shared everything on both ends,” Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said, ”That’s what makes a great team.” 

Minnesota entered the game as the 22nd best defensive team in the league and showed it in the second half. The Jazz recorded 15 of their 23 assists in the second half the Timberwolves appeared mostly lifeless. Wednesday night marked Minnesota’s sixth straight loss. 

While the Jazz haven proven their ability to shoot, entering the night as the xx best shooting team in the NBA, but had been disappointing as a passing team. The Jazz ranked 25th in the league entering the night in assist percentage at just 56.1%. For the Jazz to become a contender to come out of the Western Conference, they must continue to move the ball as they did against the Timberwolves.

The recent skid from the Jazz had largely fallen on the shoulders of a bench unit that had become notorious for long offensive droughts and porous defense. That changed against Minnesota as the Jazz reserves were largely responsible for the difference in the final score of the game. 

The Jazz outscored the Timberwolves by 12 points when Ed Davis, Georges Niang, and Jeff Green were on the floor. That number climbed to 15 with Emmanuel Mudiay on the floor. 

“I thought they competed as much as anything, there’s a lot of emotion,” Snyder said, “Georges knocked some shots down, I thought Ed was good defensively, Jeff took a matchup, and Emmanuel if anything set the tone, the way he was getting in the lane but also making plays for other people.”

The Game

The Jazz looked like a different team from the jump against Minnesota, largely in part to the aggressiveness of Joe Ingles. The Australian forward has had a slow start to the season, but due to Mike Conley’s injury has been moved into the starting lineup, and flourished Wednesday night. 

Ingles has six of the team’s first eight points and kept Minnesota’s defense on its heels, even after Donovan Mitchell left the game with foul trouble with 7:51 left in the first quarter. Ingles finished the game with a season-high 23 points on 9-14 shooting and 3-6 from three, adding five rebounds and five assists to complete a standout performance. 

Mitchell, playing with foul trouble found a way to stay on the floor after subbing in late in the first quarter and helped the Jazz take control of the game. The third-year guard scored eight points on 4/4 shooting in the final 3:14 of the first quarter and assisted Davis on the only other Jazz made basket. 

“Just being connected making plays for others, when we do that it’s so hard to guard us,” Mitchell said of the team’s win, “Tonight we saw it, everyone was scoring, and we were having fun.” 

After a rough 10-25 outing against Oklahoma CIty, Mitchell turned in one of his best games of the season and finished with 30 points on 13-20 shooting, adding six assists and five rebounds. 

The Jazz built a 55-48 lead 2:24 remaining in the first half, but an 11-2 run to close the second quarter allowed the Timberwolves to tie the game at 59 going into the half. 

Gobert opened the third quarter with two tone setting blocks, breaking a three-game stretch where the reigning defensive player of the year failed to record a swat. The Jazz began the second half on a 16-8 run and held the Timberwolves at arm’s length the rest of the way. 

“Rudy really protecting the rim was something else, particularly at the beginning of the second half,” Snyder said.

Karl-Anthony Towns was significantly outplayed by the Jazz center throughout the game, highlighted by a two-handed dunk by Gobert while drawing a foul from the former top overall pick. 

“It just shows that I’m here,” Mitchell said of Gobert’s dunk, “He’s been doing that all game on the defensive end so for him to get one on the offensive end I think was huge, not only for him but for us.” 

Gobert finished the night with his 11th double-double of the season, scoring 20 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. Towns added 21 points and 11 rebounds for Minnesota but shot just 6-15 from the floor and 2-9 from three. 

Jeff Teague kept the Timberwolves afloat in the first half, scoring 22 of his game-high 32 points, but was largely a non-factor after halftime. 

The Big Picture

After falling at home to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Jazz embarked on a seven-game stretch against teams with losing records. The Jazz started that stretch in disappointing fashion splitting the two opening games against Memphis and Oklahoma City. 

That made a Wednesday night’s game against Minnesota a near must-win, as the Jazz were in danger of falling further back, and potentially out of the Western Conference playoff picture. The Jazz now return home for a two-game stretch against Golden State and Orlando spread over seven total days. 

Ingles play throughout the season will be key to the team’s success. The Jazz simply don’t have enough talent at the back end of their rotation for a player with Ingles potential to have a down year, and still expect to be contenders in the West.

The move to the starting lineup appears to have jumpstarted Ingles season and the Jazz will hope that follows him to the bench when Conley returns from injury. If it doesn’t, Snyder will have to continue to toy with his rotation to find the best way to unlock Ingles game.