Having been thoroughly obliterated by the Jazz in the first quarter while fielding a conventional lineup, the Hornets decided to go ultra-small in the second, hoping to find some kind of juice.
Marvin Williams, nominal center, found himself momentarily free beyond the 3-point arc before Royce O’Neale hustled over, causing him to lose control of the ball. By the time he got it back, he was guarded by Rudy Gobert and, with the shot clock about to expire, tried a pump-fake, hoping to draw a foul.
Gobert didn’t bite, Williams wound up to launch a try to beat the buzzer, and Gobert promptly rejected it, thus forcing a shot clock violation anyway with 5:55 left until halftime.
Yeah, that’s pretty much how Friday’s game at Vivint Smart Home Arena went, as the Jazz rolled to their eighth straight victory, 109-92 over the Hornets.
Utah is now 26-12 on the season.
Asked afterward how the defense could yet improve, reserve forward Georges Niang quipped, “I have to really think on this one — we’re really good.”
Of course, that emphatic rejection was but the latest reminder that this matchup was actually a mismatch.
As was the case when these teams squared off in Charlotte back on Dec. 21, the Hornets could do nothing with Gobert down low early. The Jazz opened this game’s scoring with Donovan Mitchell lobbing a perfectly-placed alley-oop to the big man. Two possessions later, Gobert found himself rolling alone to the rim before the weakside defender rotated over at the last second, prompting the Frenchman to fire off a perfectly-placed assist to Bojan Bogdanovic in the corner on a 3.
As efficient as Utah was on offense, they were equally engaged and nasty on the other side of the ball.
Midway through the quarter, Charlotte had barely more field-goal attempts (nine) than turnovers (seven). The Hornets would not reach double-digits on the scoreboard until there was but 2:49 to play in the opening period.
The final carnage, er, totals from the opening period?
Utah shot 11 of 21 overall, including 6 of 12 from 3-point range. Charlotte, meanwhile, was 5 of 16 from the field, and had those seven aforementioned miscues — all of which added up to a 29-13 Jazz advantage.
Coach Quin Snyder said it was pretty simple what went right on that end.
“We were disciplined, and sometimes when you’re disciplined you fall into those things, as opposed to trying to get a turnover,” he said. “We’re trying to be fundamental.”
Niang, however, was legitimately surprised to hear those numbers.
“Really? Seven turnovers?” he asked, incredulous. “Coach was preaching defense ever since we got back from our road trip, and that’s what’s been helping us. Obviously, we’ve been making shots, but defense is what we hang our hat on.”
The teams would go on to play 36 more minutes, but not much changed, aside from Utah gradually expanding its lead.
Promisingly for Utah, none of this required any of Mitchell’s typical scoring heroics. Through the end of three quarters, he had four points on 2-for-9 shooting, but Utah led by as many as 33 points, and went into the final quarter up 25.
He did not make an appearance in the fourth, and Snyder conceded postgame that the star guard has been battling an illness.
No matter — plenty of others picked up the slack.
One game after seeing eight Jazz players score in double-figures against the Knicks, they settled for six against Charlotte, with Jordan Clarkson leading the way this time, piling up 20 off the bench. Gobert, meanwhile, had a monster line of 15 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks and three assists.
“His instincts defensively are terrific. I think he’s been more disciplined on the defensive end — he hasn’t reached at times, which takes him out of position where he can’t impact,” Snyder said. “And as much as anything, the other guys have been communicating better with him. … That connectivity on the defensive end allows him to really impact the game.
Bogdanovic (16), Niang (15), Joe Ingles (11) and Emmanuel Mudiay (10) joined them, as the bench surpassed 40 points for the fourth consecutive game.
All told, the Hornets made just 8 of 26 from 3-point range (30.8%) and committed 21 turnovers. The Jazz, meanwhile, shot 50.6% and hit 18 of 42 (42.9%) from deep.
“The more we know each other, the spacing is getting better,” Bogdanovic said. “We are getting more familiar with our places and are just trying to run. The unselfishness in this room is amazing.”