Find a way to bottle the first 24 minutes of Monday night’s Jazz-Pistons game at Vivint Smart Home Arena, throw an FDA-approved stamp on there, and insomniacs everywhere will finally rejoice a surefire cure for their ailment.
Up until the inevitable Big Pharma mark-up, anyway.
Regardless, once the Jazz stopped playing down to their competition, the game got a bit more lively, and a lot more in their favor, as they ultimately cruised to a 104-81 victory.
Utah’s final game of 2019 also proved its eighth win in its past nine matchups, and bolstered the team’s record to 21-12 on the season — something that wasn’t lost on center Rudy Gobert, the poor offensive start Monday notwithstanding.
“These last few weeks, there’s been a very good mindset. Everyone’s buying in, everyone’s trying to bring something to the table,” he said. “… I’m pleased with the fact that we’ve won eight out of nine games, and I’m pleased because I feel like we have the right mindset. We can get a lot better, but at the same time, I like that we come out every night with focus and the mindset that we need to win every time.”
Then again, going up against an injury-ravaged Pistons lineup missing Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, and Markieff Morris, the Jazz came out playing like they knew they had some wiggle room.
The first 3 minutes saw them go 0-4 from the floor, commit three turnovers, and avoid an embarrassing goose egg on the scoreboard only as a result of Joe Ingles splitting a pair of free throws.
The rest of the opening half wasn’t much better on that end.
Utah made almost as many free throws (11) as it did baskets (13) in the first half, though the former came on just 12 attempts, while the latter occurred in 39 tries. Still, Utah only trailed by a point as a result of a solid defensive effort.
The second half didn’t initially appear like it would show much improvement, when the Jazz opened things up with a shot-clock violation and a botched alley-oop try. In fairly short order, however, it became apparent those possessions would be second-half aberrations.
Donovan Mitchell got the ball rolling with a stepback jumper, followed by a layup, then a pair of free throws. Royce O’Neale, finding himself completely unguarded at the 3-point line, decided to make a shot from exactly there. Gobert rammed home a putback of an off-target trey attempt. Ingles drove in for a floater, and moments later, finding himself as alone as O’Neale was a couple possessions prior, also took advantage by swishing a 3-ball.
The 16-2 run turned the 40-39 halftime deficit into a 55-42 advantage, which effectively proved insurmountable for the firepower-deficient Pistons.
“We didn’t come in here [at halftime] upset or anything. We did what we were supposed to do, and we just missed some shots,” Mitchell said. “We figured it out on the offensive end and turned it up another level on the defensive end.”
That’s actually underselling it a bit.
Detroit converted only 38% of its shots for the game. Perhaps more importantly, the Pistons, who came in as the third-best-shooting 3-point team in the league, wound up making only 4 of 14 beyond the arc (28.6%), as Gobert handled Drummond down low and the guards contained the pick-and-roll, enabling the wings to stay home on the shooters.
“That was a big-time gameplan for us,” said Bojan Bogdanovic. “… When we play defense like we played tonight — less than 25 points every single quarter — it’s gonna be tough for anyone to beat us.”
Meanwhile, after shooting only 13 of 39 (33.3%) and scoring 39 points in the opening half, the Jazz went 26 of 44 (59%) from the in the second, en route to 65 points after the break.
“The ball moved a little more. And we got stops and were able to run on them,” Gobert said. “When we do that, and we attack the rim, it’s tough to guard.”
As a result, by midway through the fourth period, the Jazz were up more than 20, and the only remaining question was how long coach Quin Snyder would deem it necessary to keep the starters in the game. He finally waived the white flag with 2 minutes, 29 seconds to go, swapping in Georges Niang, Juwan Morgan, Tony Bradley, newcomer Rayjon Tucker, and, a few seconds later, Nigel Williams-Goss.
Mitchell wound up leading a balanced effort with 23 points, while newbie sixth man Jordan Clarkson contributed an efficient 20 (including making 4 of 7 from 3-point range). Bogdanovic added 17, while Gobert had 13 points, 19 rebounds, and three blocks. Ingles finished with 10 points, five rebounds, and five assists.
The Jazz came away particularly impressed with the efforts of Clarkson, who continues to find ways to contribute in spite of limited knowledge of the schemes to this point.
“He’s been everything we thought he was going to be these past three games,” said Mitchell. “He’s just a guy … that you know what you’re gonna get — he’s gonna attack the rim, he’s being aggressive, making the right reads. He’s learning all this stuff on the fly and still playing well. He’s making the most of it. We’re all glad to have him. I’m sure he’s gonna continue to do more as he becomes more comfortable in the offense.”