Los Angeles • After a disaster of a first half that saw the Jazz shoot poorly and turn the ball over at an alarming pace, things started to look up early in the second.
Donovan Mitchell climbed the ladder to swat a LeBron James shot from behind, then wound up with a monstrous two-handed throwdown on the other end. Moments later, his floater improbably tied the score.
And then … James responded with a layup. Then two free throws. Then Avery Bradley made a floater. And after Mike Conley drove headlong into two defenders and turned the ball over (Utah’s 17th of the game), Danny Green came down and drilled a 3.
That 9-0 run put L.A. ahead to stay, as the Lakers went on to a 95-86 victory at Staples Center.
Utah’s typically stellar defense proved capable of making up for an uneven performance on the other end in the season-opener against Oklahoma City. It could not atone for an utterly out-of-sorts one vs. Los Angeles.
“Well, throughout the game, I just felt like we were hesitant offensively — we didn’t play with a lot of force. That hesitancy hurt us,” said coach Quin Snyder. “… We just need to be stronger with the ball, we need to be more decisive, we need to be more precise.”
Many of the same issues that surfaced in Game 1 were still there in Game 2 — perhaps not shocking, considering that coach Quin Snyder mentioned the team’s eight new players on multiple occasions pregame (one of whom, Bojan Bogdanovic, sat out with a sprained ankle). This time, though, they proved more costly.
First off, Mitchell was the only consistent scorer once again. By the end of that aforementioned third quarter, he had 20 of Utah’s meager 55-point total, and no one else was in double-digits. Mitchell would go on to finish with 24 for the game, on 7-for-15 shooting.
His backcourt partner, Mike Conley, endured another rough night — missing his first six attempts, and finishing just 3 for 11 for 13 points (aided by going 6 of 6 from the free-throw line). He did add four rebounds and three assists, but also coughed the ball up four times.
“it’s like being in quicksand — you try harder and harder and it seems you just keep digging yourself into that hole,” Conley said. “But I can’t shy away from good looks — I’m getting a lot of good opportunities, and I’m just not making ’em. It’s really frustrating for me, but I’m not worried about it.”
His teammates — excluding Mitchell — weren’t much better shooting, going a collective 14 for 38 overall (36.8%), and 3-12 from deep (25%) in the opening half.
They did at least improve a bit as the contest went on — winding up at 41.4% from the field and 32% from 3-point range by game’s end.
An additional concern was the inability to protect the ball. Utah had six turnovers by the end of the first quarter, 13 by halftime, and 20 by the end of the third quarter. Part of the problem remains players’ unfamiliarity with one another. In the second quarter, Mitchell passed up a layup to dump the ball off to a trailing Jeff Green, who, clearly surprised by the pass, wound up committing a charge.
Meanwhile, a team that was strong on the boards a season ago was out rebounded for the second straight time. And while the final tally wasn’t excessive — 42 to 40 for the Lakers — Utah’s struggles there proved troublesome nevertheless.
In the second quarter, reserve center Ed Davis was beaten to the ball by Dwight Howard on consecutive shots, ultimately leading to a bucket. At the end of the third, Utah failed to corral a missed Howard free throw, leading to Troy Daniels drilling an open 3 that put the Lakers up by 19 going into the final 12 minutes.
It wasn’t all awful — Rudy Gobert totaled just eight points and nine rebounds, but his first-half defense kept a game close that maybe didn’t deserve to be.
“Even with all the turnovers and the fast-break points that we gave up because of that, we held them to 95 points,” Gobert said. “So let’s think about how good we’d be if we didn’t have that.”
That was a source of solace for Mitchell as well.
“We’ll figure the offense out, but defensively, we’re really locked in,” he said. “That’s one of the huge steps we’ve made from the preseason.”
Still, while Lakers fans went home happy following a near-triple-double from LeBron (32 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds), and newbie star Anthony Davis recovering from a poor start of his own to finish with 21 points and seven boards, the Jazz went home just hoping to quickly put the game behind them in time for Saturday’s follow-up against the Kings.
The ever-indefatigable Joe Ingles indicated after the game that shouldn’t be a problem.
“It’s Game 2, right?” he asked rhetorically. “I don’t think anything’s really concerning.”