UTAH JAZZ

Conley, Strong Identity Lead Jazz Over Hawks

Feb 4, 2021, 9:01 PM
Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)...
Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz won their 13th game in 14 outings with a 112-91 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Jordan Clarkson led the Jazz with 23 points off the bench after the team’s starters struggled when Mike Conley got into early foul trouble.

The Hawks were without starters Trae Young and De’Andre Hunter, but the Jazz were able to avoid falling into a trap game loss by relying on their well-defined identity to open their three-game road trip with a win.

Mike Conley’s Big Third Quarter

After a miserable first half from both teams, Mike Conley came into the third quarter and quickly established that the Jazz were going to be the first team to be able to run their primary offense and define their identity.

Conley played just eight minutes in the first half, all of which came in the first quarter after picking up his third quarter with just 10 seconds left in the period.

The loss of Conley resulted in a muddled offensive performance from the team in the first half and the Jazz scored just 45 points.

With Conley back in the lineup in the third quarter, the Jazz offense took off and ended the game in short order.

In the first 3:24 of the second half, Conley scored or assisted on all 10 of the Jazz points, most of which came out the pick and roll, and helped grow the lead from eight to 14. From that point forward, the Jazz lead never shrank below 12, and the Jazz coasted to an easy victory.

Conley’s ability to find a rhythm at any point in the game is an enormous advantage for a roster of younger players still finding their way in the league. The Jazz were struggling throughout the first half without the veteran guard on the floor, and he quickly righted the ship as soon as he was back on the floor.

“When I was younger, if I started out like that I might not shoot the ball the rest of the game because I’m just so caught up in thinking about foul trouble and thinking about not having the ball,” Conley said.

With 13 and a half years under his belt, the guard said he’s discovered how to channel his short memory.

“I’ve learned through the years having opportunities to be in that situation, you just breathe it out. Take a minute, take all those bad thoughts, throw them out, and start thinking about the good.”

The Jazz point guard was +11 in just 22 minutes on the floor, further strengthening his stranglehold as the NBA’s plus-minus leader.

Jazz Contingency Plan Offense

Before Conley could get back into the game, the Jazz primary and secondary offense fell apart without his direction.

The Jazz are primarily a pick and roll team, which is designed to create a Conley three-point look off of a Rudy Gobert screen. If the three isn’t there, Conley gets into the paint and either shoots a floater or finds Gobert for a lob.

If those aren’t there because the opposing team has sent help defenders into the paint, the Jazz will generate lots of open threes which is why they’ve been the most prolific three-point shooting team this season.

To Atlanta’s credit, specifically, the play of Clint Capela who is having an All-Star level season and Conley’s foul trouble, the Jazz couldn’t get into their pick and roll actions as effectively in the first half.

That meant no Gobert lob opportunities, and no ball movement around the perimeter to shoot open threes.

Gobert was 2-8 in the first half because most of his touches came with his back to the basket, and the Jazz had attempted just 12 three-point attempts, nine off their yearly average in the opening half.

With the two-man game between Conley and Gobert failing, and the three-point shooting disappearing as a result, the Jazz had to go to their emergency third option as an isolation scoring, and it still worked.

Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson had to carry the Jazz scoring load in the first half with the offensive sets coming to a standstill, and they allowed the Jazz to stay afloat until Conley could return to the game.

Bogdanovic has 15 first-half points, Clarkson had 10, all of which came in the second quarter and the Jazz isolation scoring salvaged an otherwise ugly first half.

While the Jazz have a well-earned identity as a three-point shooting team, their versatility on the offensive end is going to pay off throughout the season. If teams want to sell out to stop the pick and roll, the three-point shooting will bail them out. If neither the pick and roll or three-point shooting is working, the Jazz can turn to Bogdanovic, Clarkson, Conley, or Donovan Mitchell and still find an advantageous matchup somewhere on the floor.

Against the Hawks the Jazz turned to Bogdanovic and Clarkson, earlier in the year the Jazz relied on Mitchell against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Regardless, it’s a heck of a last resort for the Jazz, even if they don’t have to rely on it often.

Identity And Trap Games

With Trae Young and De’Andre Hunter missing the game with injuries, it could have been a trap game with the league-leading Jazz heading in to face the shorthanded Hawks.

Before the game, Snyder said the team had experienced that trap game feeling when playing against the Brooklyn Nets without Kevin Durant, and experienced their own success playing without Donovan Mitchell in two games against the Dallas Mavericks last week.

“A team generally for a given game or a couple of games really comes together and recognizes the urgency,” Snyder said. “You get a hungry team that plays hard.”

Unfortunately for the Hawks, unlike the Jazz who have Gobert, Conley, Bogdanovic, and Clarkson, the loss of Mitchell for a night is easy to make up.

In Brooklyn, the Nets can cover for Durant with Kyrie Irving (and now James Harden) and still compete on any given night.

The Hawks just don’t have the depth to be dangerous without two of their top five players, but that’s not why this wasn’t a trap game for the Jazz.

Even at full strength, the Hawks have one of the least developed identities in the NBA. That’s a result of having an inexperienced, sometimes sporadic star in Young, and a roster that’s been destroyed by the injury bug to start the year.

The Jazz meanwhile have perhaps the best identity in the NBA this season as a team that relentlessly hunts threes, and even when they aren’t falling, have a series of isolation scorers can that step up on any given night.

Further defining the Jazz identity is their defensive rating which ranked fifth in the NBA entering the night, and will surely improve after holding Atlanta to just 91 points.

As a result, the Jazz aren’t coming into games having to focus their entire attention on an opposing team’s gameplan. The Jazz are so well defined that if they run their gameplan it’s going to beat the opposition most nights.

Furthermore, that gameplan won’t be suddenly disrupted when a player like Young is a late scratch, leaving a team confused and lackadaisical.

After the win, Jazz coach Quin Snyder discussed the advantage of having a personal identity, and an ability to quickly understand a gameplan.

“One of the things that I think we have and we are is a team that’s able to process a game plan and absorb it, so I think both are important,” Snyder said. ” The former more important than the ladder, as far as a team having an identity but fortunately, I think for us, our guys have worked hard to make preparation part of that identity.”

Eventually, this could come back and bite the Jazz in the playoffs when the opposition has an opportunity to scout their opposition more, and Snyder’s team will have to adjust to things teams are taking away, but for now, most opponents are at the Jazz mercy.

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Conley, Strong Identity Lead Jazz Over Hawks