Two months ago, the Jazz lost their home opener in heartbreaking fashion, with one of the rare players they didn’t bring back from last season’s roster — Jonas Jerebko — flying in for the game-winning tip-in, as the reigning champion Warriors prevailed 124-123.
After the game, Jazz center Rudy Gobert had some telling words.
“We’re gonna keep getting better — it’s just one game,” he said. “They came out ready tonight, we came out ready. We had enough great things to look at, and a lot of things were not as great. But we’re gonna get better from that.”
But, with the Warriors returning to Vivint Smart Home Arena on Wednesday night, it’s fair to wonder if that has actually been the case.
Have the Jazz, in fact, kept getting better? With the team presently sitting at 14-17 overall after Monday’s loss to Houston, in 14th place in the 15-team Western Conference, it’s hard to make that argument.
That first matchup against Golden State was, in retrospect, one of Utah’s better efforts of the season. Despite a poor-shooting first quarter — which has become something of a trend this season — the Jazz still notched 34 points in the first 12 minutes, thanks largely to what would prove to be an atypical parade to the free-throw line (17 first-quarter attempts).
The second quarter would prove even more unusual and amazing. Thanks to a team-record 10 shots made from 3-point range, Utah racked up 47 points in the period, and totaled 81 by halftime — just the fourth occasion in franchise history that the team accumulated at least 80 points in a half.
The second half, though, was full of soon-to-be easily-recognized Jazz staples.
Like, say, prolonged stretches of offensive ineffectualness. After the 47 points scored in the second quarter, the Jazz scored only 42 in the entire second half. The blender stopped blending, and far too many possessions went nowhere, culminating in isolation 3-point attempts that, post-halftime, went off the rim instead of through it.
Meanwhile, the Jazz’s vaunted defense was picked apart all game long by Kevin Durant, to the tune of 38 points. And while Steph Curry had a relatively quiet opening half, he exploded for 16 in the third quarter en route to finishing with 31.
So then — what does the season’s first meeting with the Warriors tell us about the Jazz relative to what’s come since?
First off, that game gave a false impression of the team’s 3-point prowess. After coach Quin Snyder spent much of the offseason saying Utah needed to improve not only its accuracy but also its frequency from deep, the Jazz buried 19 shots from beyond the arc and did so at a 41.3-percent clip. For the season, the team is making just 10.6 shots a game from deep, and converting only 33.3 percent of its attempts.
Secondly, it suggested the team’s transition defense might be an issue — which was borne out in subsequent weeks. Golden State racked up 20 fast-break points against Utah, and that would prove a constant point of emphasis for Snyder thereafter. Now, the Jazz have improved all the way up to third in the league, in allowing opponents just 10.5 fast-break points per game.
Thirdly, it perhaps foretold some of Donovan Mitchell’s struggles to come. The second-year guard scored 19 points, albeit on 7-for-23 shooting (30.4 percent) overall and 4 of12 (33.3percent) from deep. For the season, Mitchell is averaging 21.0 ppg, while shooting 42.3 percent overall and 30.3 percent from deep.
In effect, that Oct. 19 game proved a pretty accurate microcosm of the 29 games that have followed it — occasional moments of brilliance undone by inconsistent offense and eventual defensive breakdowns, which ultimately added up to a frustrating defeat.
After that game, Ricky Rubio gave a good assessment of the challenges that Golden State posed on that night, and, frankly, on any night when the Warriors are playing anywhere close to full-strength.
“Golden State is a different gameplan than anybody else — they have three great [offensive] players, and it’s a little different, but you have to adjust,” he said. “We executed our game plan really good, and we’re proud of that. … We gotta be realistic — they’re the champs from the last two years. We know they can make shots. But we played really good and we competed against them toe to toe. Of course we’re gonna be frustrated because we lost, but at the same time, we played a really, really good game.”
But can they play a really, really good game again? And can they get the result they want this time?
Being in the midst of a potentially season-defining run, as they are — a five-game stretch against some of the Western Conference’s elite (Rockets, Warriors, Thunder, and two gams vs. the Trail Blazers) — they may not have any choice.
JAZZ VS. WARRIORS
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 14-17; Warriors 21-10
Last meeting • Warriors, 124-123 (Oct. 19)
About the Jazz • Tuesday’s 102-97 loss to the Rockets was the Utah’s second straight defeat overall, and its first loss in three games against Houston this season. … The Jazz committed 24 turnovers against the Rockets; they rank 26th in the NBA, averaging 16.0 turnovers per game. … Utah also made just 10 of 35 attempts from 3-point range; for the season, the Jazz are 18th in 3s made per game (10.6), and 26th in 3-point percentage (33.3).
About the Warriors • Golden State won the teams’ first matchup when Jonas Jerebko, who played for Utah last season, tipped in the go-ahead shot with less than a second remaining. … The Warriors are coming off a 110-93 win vs. Memphis, which saw Andre Iguodala (sore right hip) and Shaun Livingston (bruised pelvis) return from injury. … Kevin Durant is second in the NBA in scoring, at 28.8 points per game. Steph Curry is also averaging 28.8 ppg, but has not played enough games to qualify among the league leaders.