Pretty much everyone knew what the Jazz’s modus operandi would be this year because … well, because it’s pretty much what they do every year:
Smother and suffocate teams defensively, and slow the pace and grind it out offensively to score just enough.
So then, a mere two games into the 2018-19 campaign, it seems safe to say we’re all wondering the same thing now: Exactly what the hell is going on?
Yes, it’s an admittedly small sample size, but so far Utah is averaging 123 points per game — tied for third-most in the NBA. And on the flip side, they’re allowing 120.5 ppg — tied for eighth-most in the league.
Joe Ingles, arguably the biggest beneficiary of the team’s offensive explosion, considering he’s averaging 24.5 points on 70.4 percent shooting from the field and 64.7 percent from 3-point range, finds this new paradigm a bit disconcerting.
“Offense is not the problem — many times this year I think it’ll be more defensively,” he said after Friday’s 124-123 loss to the Warriors. “And that’s what we wanna do, that’s what we hold our hat on, is our defense. And it probably hasn’t been where it should be these first couple games.”
It all is certainly a far cry from a year ago.
For some context, the Jazz finished the 2017-18 season ranked just 19th in the league in scoring, at 104.1 ppg, and they tied for the league’s best scoring defense in allowing just 99.8 ppg.
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So what gives?
Well, on the offensive side, it’s pretty simple — the Jazz are playing faster, and taking and making a lot more 3-pointers.
A year ago, they ranked 13th in both 3s attempted (29.6) and made (10.8) per game.
On Friday night, they made 10 3-pointers in the second quarter alone, en route to an 81-69 halftime lead.
“I remember being in this building about 20 years ago in the Finals and literally the final scores of some of those games was the halftime score tonight,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr noted. “Shows you how much the game has changed. They hit everything tonight. They were on fire.”
True enough. Through their first two games this year, the Jazz are tied for third in 3s made per game (16.0) and tied for fifth in attempts (36.5).
“I guess it kind of goes back to that style of play, and trying to play a little bit faster,” Ingles agreed. “We did a good job of it.”
As for the other side of the ball, Utah allowed 117 to Sacramento in its season opener, then 124 to Golden State on Friday.
And yet, several Jazz players argued there was significant progress made on the defensive end.
“I think we picked it up a lot more this game,” Donovan Mitchell said. “There’s a lot of things we can build on. We rose the bar from Game 1.”
The numbers, in a vacuum, might make that claim seem counterintuitive, considering the Warriors made 56.3 percent of their shots and 52.6 percent of their 3-pointers (compared to 51.6 and 36.8 percent, respectively, for the Kings).
Then again, there’s a big difference in getting scored on by Kevin Durant and Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, as opposed to Willie Cauley-Stein, De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Nemanja Bjelica.
“The two games were day and night — we didn’t play good at Sacramento, we played good tonight,” said Ricky Rubio. “Golden State is a different game plan than anybody else; they have three great players, and it’s a little different, but you have to adjust. We executed our game plan really good, and we’re proud of that.”
The Jazz certainly have regrets about how the end of the Warriors game played out — Rudy Gobert lamented getting “kinda stagnant with the ball” late, acknowledged that “we didn’t really know what we were running” on Utah’s penultimate offensive possession, and second-guessed his own decision-making on the play that gave Golden State the win: “The guy that you knew was gonna take the shot had two guys on him. I came up ’cause I thought maybe [Durant] was gonna keep driving. And as soon as I came up, the ball bounced the other way. I shoved Jonas [Jerebko] — but I pushed him toward the ball.”
Nevertheless, they’re not going to overreact to it.
“[They’re] the best team in the world, and we ended up losing by one, on a tip-in by Jonas. We just gotta stay positive,” Gobert added. “We gotta look at the film, and we’re probably gonna feel bad looking at the film, but it’s just one game.”
JAZZ BY THE NUMBERS
Two games is a small sample size, but Utah is looking very different on both offense and defense from a year ago:
• Scoring 123 ppg and allowing 120.5 this season, as opposed to 104.1 and 99.8 last year.
• Making 16.0 3-pointers per game on 36.5 attempts this tear, vs. 10.8 and 29.6
• Utah’s 48.2 FG% ranks ninth in the NBA, and its 43.8 percent on 3-pointers ranks fourth.
• Joe Ingles is averaging 24.5 ppg on 70.4 percent shooting from the field and 64.7 percent from 3-point range.