Tougher Opponent No Tough Test For Red Hot Jazz

Jan 20, 2020, 11:27 PM
Mike Conley - Utah Jazz...
Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) watches his shot fall through the net during the Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. (Courtesy of Deseret News)
(Courtesy of Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz continued their impressive play against a hot Indiana Pacers team, and won 118-88, the second-largest margin of victory this season. 

The Story

Any fear that the Utah Jazz were only able to beat up on the bad teams of the NBA was squashed when the Indiana Pacers strolled into Salt Lake City with a five-game win streak and crawled out with a 30 point loss. 

Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell understood the narrative that has surrounded the Jazz and they entered the game against one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams.

“Can we continue to get wins over teams that are above .500?” Mitchell asked, “Can we win over teams that are contenders?”

The answer was a resounding yes, as the Jazz thoroughly dismantled a hot Pacers team on both sides of the floor, holding Indiana to just 88 points on 41 percent shooting from the floor and 26 of shooting from three. Meanwhile, the Jazz continued their hot streak offensive, shooting 54 percent from the floor and 38 percent from deep. 

Perhaps most impressively was the Jazz ability to match the Pacers style of play en route to the blowout victory. Indiana is one of the most balanced scoring teams in the NBA with seven players averaging double figures for the season.

Instead of relying solely on the scoring abilities of Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz played advantage basketball across the roster and found easy shots against a tired Pacers defense. 

By halftime, each of the nine Jazz players who had found their way onto the floor had scored and only Tony Bradley had scored fewer than twice. 

“It’s tough for opponents because its tough to beat a team when they’re having fun and playing the right way,” said Jazz guard Mike Conley, “For us its instilling confidence into each guy.” 

At games end, 10 of the 13 players who appeared for the Jazz had scored and the Jazz coasted to an easy victory through the entirety of the second half. The Jazz took a 41-30 lead with 6:54 left in the first half and allowed the Pacers to close the lead to single digits for just 1:07 over the final 30:54 of the game and won their 30th game of the season. 

“We just had a bitter taste from last time we played them we wanted to come out with a lot of energy this time,” Jazz forward Royce O’Neale said,  “I think our defense led to easy baskets on offense and we just shared the ball.” 

The Jazz offense which has been the best in the NBA over the last 15 games continues to obliterate the opposition, regardless of the quality of the defense. The Pacers, who were tied for the 10th best Defensive Rating in the NBA at 106.7 entering the game but allowed a rating of 119.2. 

As good as the offense was for the Jazz, their defense was even better. The Jazz had a defensive rating of 89.8 against the Pacers which ranks in the top-four percentile of games this season for an NBA team. The 88 total points from the Pacers was the third-lowest scoring total from a Jazz opponent this season. 

The Game

The Jazz came out of the gates playing nearly perfect offensively. Of the team’s 13 first quarter made field goals, six were layups, three were three-pointers, and three were dunks. Rudy Gobert and Mitchell were the catalysts for the Jazz in the opening quarter with six points apiece and all six made field goals came at the rim.  The only non-restricted area, non-three point make from the Jazz came from Mike Conley on a mid-range jump shot with 2:17 left in the quarter. 

Mitchell finished the night with a game-high 25 points on 11-19. Gobert added 20 points on 8-11 from the floor. 

Conley in just his second game back from a hamstring injury had one of his best nights in a Jazz uniform. The 13-year veteran guard came off the bench and scored 14 points on 6-8 shooting in just 18 minutes. 

Jazz coach Quin Snyder was complimentary of Conley’s performance.

“When you’re consistent defensively you give yourself a chance for good things to happen,” Snyder said, “Mike started to find a rhythm tonight and some of those run-stopping plays were shots that he hit.”

The Jazz allowed two six-point runs from the Pacers throughout the game but never seemed to lack answers to stem the Pacers streaks.

Georges Niang joined Conley in scoring double digits off the bench contributing 15 points of his own in 20 minutes off the bench. In total, the Jazz bench matched the Pacers’ second unit scoring 46 points apiece. 

Myles Turner and Aaron Holiday were the Pacers leading scorers with 12 points each, Jeremy Lamb added 11 points while Domantas Sabonis added 10. 

The Jazz held the Pacers to 25 points or fewer in each of the four quarters, 

The Big Picture

The Jazz recorded their 30th win of the season and moved to 30-12 overall, tied with the Nuggets and Clippers for the second-best record in the NBA. 

Gobert is in the midst of a particularly dominant stretch on the offensive side of the ball. Gobert scored at least 20 points for the fourth time in games and has missed just 15 of his last 54 shots. 

“Whenever you can find a guy of Rudy’s caliber that wants to do the little things because he loves winning, those things are immeasurable,” Niang said, “I don’t think people understand how valuable he is to this team.” 

The level of dominance the Jazz are playing at right now is incredible but will continue to get tested over the rest of the season. Despite the Pacers coming in as one of the hottest teams in the NBA, the Jazz were fortunate to catch them on the second night of back to back games flying in from Denver. On top of playing at high altitude for consecutive nights, the Pacers won a come from behind victory over Denver that took a physical tole in the fourth quarter. 

“We just consider the level that we can attain against a good team, coming off a back to back, it’s true, but it’s still a very good team,” Gobert said of the Pacers, “I think they’re going to be one of the best teams in the East this year and its great to see that we can keep playing for four quarters and it’s encouraging”

Emmanuel Mudiay once again saw his reserve guard minutes go to Conley during his rehab stint off the bench. While it would make sense for Mudiay to re-enter the rotation when Conley is healthy enough to be moved back into the starting lineup, this may be a preview of the rotation Synder will use in the playoffs. 

Snyder could easily trim the guard rotation to four total players with Conley and Mitchell starting in the backcourt, Joe Ingles shifting from small forward down to the guard line with the second unit, joined by Clarkson off the bench. Synder had been using at times a 10 man rotation in Conley’s absence but with the veteran guard deserving of 30 minutes a game, an entire reserve spot could disappear by season’s end. However, to preserve energy and limit the injury of risk, Snyder may once again move to find Mudiay regular minutes once Conley is fully cleared.

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