Maybe it was overconfidence from already beating one Australian team by almost 60 points. Maybe it was general disinterest in facing non-NBA competition for the second time in a span of three preseason games. Maybe it was raggedness borne from coach Quin Snyder experimenting with lineups and rotations. Maybe it was the unfamiliar look of an opponent in a 1-2-2 zone defense to start things off.
Whatever it was, the Utah Jazz suffered through an extremely sluggish start Friday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena, but still pulled out a 129-99 victory over the competitive but ultimately overmatched Adelaide 36ers.
Donovan Mitchell led the way with 18 points, all in the first half.
And while the Jazz overcame an ignominious beginning to ultimately earn a more comfortable margin of victory than was perhaps deserved, they set themselves up for a whole lot of questions and criticism along the way.
Asked what went wrong at the start, Joe Ingles quipped, "How long you got? I gotta get home.
“We didn’t come out well. It took us awhile to kinda get used to them,” he added. “… We had good shots. … If a few of them go in early, it probably changes the game. Defensively, we’ve gotta get a lot better. We know that.”
After Mitchell joked at morning shootaround that Ingles might hoist 45 shots against his hometown team, the veteran sharpshooter went 0 for 4 from the field. Jae Crowder was 0 for 7. Ricky Rubio was 2 for 7.
Overall, the first 24 minutes of action saw Utah shoot just 42 percent from the field, and 26 percent on 3-pointers — especially worrying given that 27 of the team’s 53 field-goal attempts came from deep.
Early offensive sets were either confusingly disjointed or produced wide-open looks on 3s that consistently came up short. Defensively, an alarming number of perimeter players were beaten off the dribble, and the interior backup was equally ineffective, with Rudy Gobert getting the night off to rest.
“We had some really good looks. We scored how many points in the first half? [Sixty-six.] We just didn’t guard,” Snyder said. "… You can’t just turn it on and off, ’cause you give a team confidence.
“If we’re making some of those 3s early, you’re not in those situations,” he continued. “But I thought we got good looks. We just gotta make sure we get back if we’re not making them.”
While the Jazz trailed by eight at one point early and were actually behind at the end of the first quarter, to the consternation of the restless home crowd, the comeback began late in the second quarter when the team started eschewing its bricky outside shooting for a bit in favor of attacking the lane.
Rookie Grayson Allen lost his defender on a screen, accelerated to the hoop and threw down a rising one-handed jam. Soon after, Mitchell got his man leaning toward the paint, then went baseline for an emphatic tomahawk.
Meanwhile, a suddenly sparky, swarming effort on the defensive end forced the 36ers into several turnovers on the perimeter. And finally, the overall talent disparity between the teams finally made itself apparent.
All in all, Utah wound up outscoring Adelaide 38-23 in the quarter, turning the tide for good.
“Just being more aggressive. [Adelaide’s Nate Sobey, who finished with a game-high 25 points] was getting off, and for all of us, we took it on the chin,” Mitchell said. “… We can’t rely on being able to shoot the way we did against Toronto. Our stamp is our defense, and we tried to rely on our offense too much. Obviously, not having Rudy back there is a big deal as well, but even so, we have to be able to step up.”
Despite rolling out a bench unit of Ekpe Udoh, Royce O’Neale, Georges Niang, Alec Burks and Allen to start the second half, and the starting lineup never touching the court post-halftime, Utah wasn’t really challenged thereafter.
Still, it wasn’t until an O’Neale-led 15-4 run in the fourth that the Jazz finally pulled away. With the 36ers resorting to playing their bench as well, Utah outscored them 35-13 in the quarter to bolster the final advantage.
Utah wound up climbing to 49.5 percent from the field thanks to its second-half dominance, while Adelaide faded to 39.3 percent overall. The Jazz also hoisted 48 total 3-pointers (their season-high last year was 40), making 16. Allen and Burks added 16 points apiece off the bench.
The home portion of their preseason schedule now complete, the Jazz will next play at Portland on Sunday.
Jazz 129, 36ers 99
• The Jazz are confused early by Adelaide’s 1-2-2 zone defense, and end the first quarter trailing 31-28.
• With Donovan Mitchell (who scored a team-high 18) leading the way, Utah rallies back for a 38-23 second-quarter advantage and never trails again.
• The Jazz attempt 48 of their 97 total shots from beyond the 3-point arc, but make just 16 of them.