Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 116-88 win over the Phoenix Suns from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz run away with the 4th quarter to win
I’m not sure exactly what to say about this one: the Jazz were favored to win by 15.5 points by Vegas oddsmakers. Going into the fourth quarter, it looked like they’d fall short of that, but then Utah won the final period by 20 points and ended up dominating the scoreboard.
Honestly, I thought a lot of what happened is that the Suns’ level dropped. The Jazz had a 8-point lead going into the quarter, went on a flukish 5-0 run, and from there, the Suns didn’t exactly play their best. Like, the Jazz are very, very okay with DeAndre Ayton taking a turnaround 19-foot jumper.
On the other hand, given the Suns’ injury situation and overall talent level, maybe giving those opportunities to Ayton isn’t the worst thing in the world.
The Jazz’s offense, to their credit, played really unselfish basketball late. Early in the game, and even early in the fourth quarter, the Suns helped frequently on the paint, especially on Derrick Favors. I thought this was a clever way to get into a Joe Ingles pick and roll:
And after Favors burned the Suns a few times in a row, they started to collapse on him, leaving wide-open shooters.
Give Ingles specifically a lot of credit, as he led the Jazz with 11 assists. His ability to make the right read in pick and roll is one of his best assets. Sometimes, he’s the Jazz’s most dangerous ballhandler, even including Donovan Mitchell, due to his ability to force the defense to make decisions. Mitchell doesn’t always do that yet, he’s lacking that ounce of savvy that Ingles has in spades.
2. Royce O’Neale’s good play
I also really liked the play of Royce O’Neale tonight, who had 15 points (on 5-6 shooting, including 3-4 from 3-point range), to go with four assists and a couple of rebounds and steals in 27 minutes.
Let’s be honest: if O’Neale had shot 1-4 from 3-point range, it’s less likely that I’d be talking about him. But O’Neale’s ability to hit the open threes that he gets is one of his best characteristics: he’s now shooting 40.4 percent from there after tonight.
“The game for Royce can be very simple. When you have clarity on the court, you’re better at it, you’re more decisive. When you’ve got some open looks, just be ready to shoot,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “There’s a reason he was getting those open looks: he was spacing. That’s the concentration and the focus.”
He also kept the ball moving a few times to get those four assists. Honestly, it’s not that he’s doing anything flashy, but it’s his ability to just make a decision right away that keeps him on the floor.
Like this play: O’Neale is wide-open when he catches this ball. Should he have just taken the three? Probably! But because he drives immediately, he keeps the advantage for the Jazz’s offense anyway.
Defensively, this season has gone a long way to display O’Neale’s strengths and weaknesses. He’s miscast as a total defensive stopper: if you put him on James Harden or Damian Lillard or a quick quard, it turns out that he’s going to have problems. But on the other hand, if you put him on a player more suited to his strengths, he defends very well. We’ll let Snyder explain.
“We’ve asked him to defend a bunch of different players, but he’s most comfortable and effective when he’s guarding a wing. That’s when he’s able to use his aggressiveness and physicality to be disruptive," Snyder said. "When he does that and goes to the defensive glass, good things are going to happen to him.”
He’s a nice piece, and is only making $1.3 million this year.
3. The mood of the team around the deadline
I think you’ve been able to tell, even with a 28-point win, that the Jazz have been a little bit distracted over the last week or so. The reason for that is clear, Joe Ingles says: it’s the trade deadline.
“It’s difficult. I think at times, you even notice, the way we played, it’s just kind of tiring to be honest,” Ingles said. “You guys do your part of the job, it just wears down on your team, because it’s constant noise, really. We’re always going to stick together.”
And Ingles again pointed to this particular group of 15 players’ closeness.
“I love our group, I love who we’ve got. It’s not awkward, but you’re just waiting for something to happen or not, which sucks, because we’ve got such a great group of guys that enjoy playing together, that enjoy being in Utah,” he said. “They love being here, they want to be here. I think in the past, that’s been difficult to have 15 guys who want to be here is pretty special.”
“All the guys that have been tweeted about have been great, just sticking with the focus of what we need to do. We got a good win tonight and we’ll just sit and wait now. I hope we have the same group as of whatever time it is tomorrow.”
We heard a couple of players say that they’re going to turn their phones on airplane mode as the deadline counts down. That, of course, helps escape the distraction and the noise. You can simply deal with whatever happens when it happens, rather than having to consider speculation.
But there was another reason given that I heard, albeit one given in jest: if you have your phone on airplane mode, maybe they won’t be able to trade you, a kind of “hear no evil, see no evil” approach.
This team might be different come Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m. MT, it might not be. I think there are ways that the Jazz will be better after the deadline, and I’m encouraged by those possibilities. On the court, sometimes good is the enemy of great.
But there’s no doubt: if there is a trade, I’d miss this particular group. I’d miss Ricky Rubio’s sense of camaraderie with his team and his community, Derrick Favors’ sense of humor, and so on and so forth. This is a unique group of teammates in some sense because they found themselves through the support of each other.
By all accounts, Mike Conley, for example, is a fantastic person to go along with his excellent guard skills. But there’s something about the fellowship that has grown on this team, something special that I’ll remember forever.