There’s a scene in the 1986 film “Top Gun” where the pilot played by Tom Cruise is having his performance in a dogfight evaluated, and the analyst concludes, “The encounter was a victory, but I think we’ve shown it as an example of what not to do.”
Sounds like a pretty apt description of the Jazz’s 114-106 win over Golden State on Friday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Utah had to overcome its own lethargy and bad decision-making just to rally past the woefully undermanned Warriors. The first half was so low-energy that, late in the second period, every GSW offensive rebound and even one particularly Donovan Mitchell midrange floater prompted a chorus of boos from the rightly annoyed fans in attendance.
The Jazz finally got their act together early in the third, fueled by a seemingly endless parade of open 3s by Bojan Bogdanovic from the same right corner, which the Warriors somehow couldn’t seem to figure out. The end result was a 37-point quarter from Utah, which enabled them to surge ahead.
“Our energy was completely different in the third quarter. A lot of times this season we’ve kind of waited to get punched in the mouth, and then we act,” said Bogdanovic, who went on to tie both the team record and his personal best with eight mades 3s, en route to a game-high 32 points. “Also, we were way better on the defensive boards; that allowed us to run and get a couple easy layups and wide-open 3s. Energy — that’s the key. That’s how we have to start every single game.”
It was decidedly lacking at the outset on this occasion.
Not only did the Warriors not have the likes of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, of course — they didn’t even have the likes of Eric Paschall. That didn’t stop them from getting every open look they could hope for, as former Jazz guard Alec Burks dropped in eight points in the opening couple minutes alone.
The Jazz’s lax effort revealed itself in the end-of-first-quarter numbers, which saw them shoot only 41% from the field, and out-rebounded 16-7. Eight of the Warriors’ boards came on the offensive glass.
The second period wasn’t a whole lot better. Bogdanovic, frustrated by a lack of passes coming his way on spot-ups, would put the ball on the floor, drive, turn it over, then remain in the backcourt, arguing with the ref for a foul call that would not come.
Rudy Gobert, meanwhile, was frustrated by a lack of touches down low after sealing away smaller defenders in the paint, only to see teammates attempt one toothless pick-and-roll after another.
On the other end, time after time, a Jazz perimeter defender would get beat, Gobert would step up to challenge the shot, the shot would miss, but Warriors would get the offensive rebound because Gobert was now out of position, and no one was boxing out …
… Lather, rinse, repeat.
As a result, a short, positive stretch that saw them briefly get within four was quickly answered by a 9-0 Golden State run to push the advantage back to 13.
“We’re maybe not as big a team as the other team, but we have to be more physical, and that requires more mental awareness,” Gobert said. “Sometimes we do it when we know we need to, and then kind of forget and get comfortable, and then we get a second quarter like what we got tonight. It’s almost like a wake-up call — we need to box out.”
They seemed to figure things out early in the third, however, as Joe Ingles repeatedly connected with Bogdanovic on drive-and-kicks, as Donovan Mitchell repeatedly found space to run the floor, and as Gobert finally got some work as a trailer going cutting down the lane.
Bogdanovic especially had success, capitalizing on Golden State’s fixation with Mitchell (“They were more scared of Donovan than my 3s,” he joked afterward) to hit a trio of 3s and score 10 points in the third quarter alone.
After the shooting woes he’s had of late, his teammates were thrilled to see him get to see some shots go down.
“I told him, ‘You can go 1 for 20-something, no one cares. Just shoot. Shoot, shoot, shoot,’” said Mitchell. “And that’s what he did. He’s a guy who can really get going. Obviously, he struggled a little bit, but I think he’s back.”
Still, even that wasn’t enough to settle it.
No sooner did the Jazz finally get the lead than they seemed to revert back to many of the same miscues that got them in trouble in the first place.
More indecisive, isolation-heavy offense. More empty minutes from the bench. More offensive rebounds allowed.
The game wasn’t ultimately really settled until inside the final 2 minutes, when Bogdanovic rescued a seemingly lost possession with a huge stepback 3, and after getting a stop, Mitchell nailed a trey on the other end to make it a five-point lead.
Mitchell added 28 points. Gobert would tally 15 points, 15 rebounds, and two blocks. Ingles, effectively playing point guard in place of Mike Conley (who missed his fifth straight game with a tight hamstring) finished with 13 points and eight assists.
“I think our habits have to be better. We cannot wait to get punched in the mouth, because against better teams than the Warriors, we’re going to struggle. We’re going to get [losses],” Bogdanovic said. “But a [win] is a [win]. We have three days off right now to practice and get our habits better.”