Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 106-93 win over the Orlando Magic from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz turn defense up, come back from 21-point deficit to win handily
It’s a formula we’ve seen before, in fact, multiple times in the last week. Once again, the Jazz started slowly, exceptionally so, and got out to a 21-point deficit. And once again, the team came back, narrowed that deficit quickly, turned around, and won the game by a double-digit margin. For you gamblers out there, they even covered the spread.
Did the Jazz play poorly in the first half? Absolutely. Defensively, there were silly little mistakes all over the floor, communication lost, and open shots being frequently sunk by the Magic. This little video the Magic put together on Aaron Gordon’s first quarter illustrates it fairly well. First, Gordon gets an easy layup because Rudy Gobert swipes at the ball rather than keeping his hands up, then Gordon makes a pretty tough corner three, then he gets free because Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale ran into each other.
All in all, the team allowed the Magic to score 131 points per 100 possessions in the first half.
And then everything changed in the second half. As multiple players told us, it wasn’t anything that the Jazz did schematically differently, it was just a matter of them doing the right things more often. Quin Snyder referenced this steal by Donovan Mitchell in his postgame press conference as an example of the kind of things that the Jazz started to do:
“He came right over and he was there. That same play, he was a jet going down the court. Those two things are linked, there’s no question,” Snyder said.
It’s the kind of defensive run the Jazz were known for last season. All in all, the Magic scored just 30 points in the second half, or a 62 defensive rating for the Jazz. That’s superlative defense, and it won them a game that looked lost.
2. Donovan Mitchell’s shooting seems back
Donovan Mitchell had another tremendous game on Wednesday night, scoring 33-points on 12-21 shooting. That included a 4-7 performance from beyond the 3-point line. He’s now 14-26 from behind the arc in his last four games.
This is really small sample size theater, so it is very possible that this is just randomness: just as Mitchell had 5-26 stretches from behind the arc earlier, the other side of the coin is stretches where his shot is going down like it has been over the last week.
But I do think it’s possible that he’s also taking better, more on-balance shots too, which might explain some of the turnaround.
“It’s about d--- time,” Mitchell said. “Taking better threes. The shot I took on Evan Fournier, and missed it short, those are kind of the threes I’ve been taking all year. Now I’m trying to get easier looks, making it easier on myself, and that’s where it starts.”
Add that to the improved passing game he’s shown in recent games, and we’re starting to see a much-improved Mitchell.
“Film work has been heavy," Mitchell emphasized, “since probably the Christmas game.” Those reads, though, have become a lot better, as shown in the above highlight video — though we should note that the Magic made several really dumb over-help errors that allowed some of those passes to be so open.
The Jazz are now 19-6 when Mitchell has six or more assists in a game, 12-2 when he shoots 45 percent or greater from the field, and 6-0 when he does both. When Mitchell is good, the Jazz are great.
3. Booing at home
The Jazz are now back to .500 after 42 games, with a 21-21 record. That’s disappointing, though it’s worth noting that the team is still predicted to win 48 games overall, and make the playoffs. In fact, Inpredictable.com shows that the Jazz even still have a 28 percent chance of getting home court advantage in the first round.
But still, fans are frustrated, and they showed that in the first half with scattered boos, as the Jazz quickly got out to a 21-point deficit.
Joe Ingles hates that, and brought it up during his postgame interviews. Here’s his full quote.
“They were booing, huh. They can go boo at home if they want to boo. I hate it when they boo. We knew we weren’t playing well, it’s not rocket science. We want to win every game too. We want the fans to cheer for us every night, have a good time, eat some popcorn, go on their little date night — we want for them to enjoy it too. But we’re not going to win 82 games, and we’re not going to play great every night, and we’re going to play bad at times. We didn’t start well, we had a different lineup, we had a different team. A bit more cheering and support, that might have helped, instead of booing us. It’s tough. Obviously, we have great fans, and we want to play well for them, but we’re not going to win every game. We are trying to win.”
It feels so much like this season has been a battle of the same team fighting expectations caused by the 29-6 run to finish last year, when it’s easy to forget that they started the season 19-28, too. Now, a 21-point deficit at home to the Orlando Magic is not good, not good at all. But, in Ingles’ words, to expect the team to play great every night is asking too much over the course of an 82-game schedule, especially with the kind of schedule the Jazz have faced, and now the injuries they’ve seen recently.
I heavily support the right for the fans to boo, cheer, or really do mostly anything within reason: they’re the whole reason that this silly ball-in-circle enterprise works anyway. But I think Ingles' request that perspective be maintained is a reasonable one.