On his 31st birthday, Joe Ingles wanted to get the party started off right. So after knocking away a pass from Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, he found himself with an open court and, unusual for him, dunked for the Jazz’s first two points of the night.
And in the end, Tuesday’s preseason game finished the way the Jazz wanted it to, with a 105-90 victory over the Raptors, last year’s top seed from the Eastern Conference. Appropriately, the brightest star, even above his more famous guests, belonged to Ingles: his 24 points led both teams after shooting 8 of 15 from the field and 5 of 11 from 3-point range.
“He was the catalyst, he came with what we needed. Coming out of there, we were kind of behind a little bit. We needed that energy, and that’s what Joe does," Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said. "It’s just another night for Joe, but on his birthday he played really well and I’m happy for him.”
But Ingles' celebrations were hampered somewhat by the coming and going of his guests. After all, during a pivotal second quarter, his Jazz teammates didn’t contribute much: while Ingles shot 5 of 7 for 13 points, everyone else combined to make only one of 12 shots, scoring just five points. Overall, the Jazz were outscored 33-18 in the period, mostly by a vaunted Toronto second unit that was the league’s best last season.
When the second half started, it was the Raptors' turn to disappear. Their entire starting lineup sat out to begin the third quarter, and while C.J. Miles and Jonas Valanciunas eventually appeared again, stars Kawhi Leonard — who had a brilliant 17 points in 18 minutes on the court — and Kyle Lowry never returned at all. The result of the lineup imbalance was a 27-4 run that turned the Jazz’s nine-point halftime deficit into a 14-point lead in a matter of minutes. They’d never relinquish that lead.
Despite the win, it’s understandable coach Quin Snyder wasn’t happy with his team’s performance. He put more emphasis on his best players on Tuesday night: his starters all accumulated between 21 and 26 minutes, but given the Raptors' second quarter, he has much more to show his team in film-room sessions than the Jazz’s first preseason win against the Perth Wildcats on Saturday.
“I think the offense hurt our defense. They’re an aggressive team with great hands, and we were turning the ball over. We were also giving up offensive rebounds, and we weren’t keeping the ball in front of us. Not quite a perfect storm, but it’s pretty close,” Snyder said.
The Jazz’s second unit struggled to score, a common refrain from last season that was made even more clear when normal backup point guard Dante Exum missed the game due to knee soreness. With Raul Neto also out with a hamstring injury, that left rookie guard Grayson Allen to run the show. While he maintained his aggressiveness at the position, he wasn’t as effective in running the offense.
Both teams brought turnovers to the bash. The teams combined for 45 turnovers, with 23 of those from Utah and 22 from Toronto. Remarkably, eight of those were traveling calls, as the league’s officiating crews make walking a point of emphasis this season. Last year, the average NBA game featured fewer than two traveling whistles. Tuesday morning, the Jazz met with the officiating crew to learn about how they plan to officiate the game, and the rest of the season.
“They talked to us this morning about it, and they’re calling it more this year than they did last year," Mitchell said. "It’s a point of emphasis, and we have to adjust to it.”
So maybe it was because it was a long, whistle-laden game, or maybe it was because he has a particular sense of humor, but Ingles didn’t seem to enjoy his birthday performance as much as everyone else did.
“I appreciate everyone coming out for my birthday," Ingles said. “I’d probably still rather be home.”