There had been plenty of speculation in recent days about how Mike Conley’s return would impact the way the red-hot Jazz are playing.
We still don’t really have any idea, considering Saturday’s game against the Kings was pretty much over before Conley even checked in … with 2:39 left in the first quarter.
Utah exploited a Sacramento defense initially putting up absolutely zero resistance, scoring on its first nine possessions of the game en route to a 123-101 victory at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
While Sacramento eventually put forth some effort and made some adjustments, the 24-10 lead the Jazz racked up would, indeed, hold up for the duration.
Joe Ingles missed the game’s first shot attempt, his 3-pointer off-line, but Rudy Gobert grabbed the board and rammed it home, starting a streak of nine consecutive Jazz attempts that found their way to the bottom of the net.
A few minutes later, a long rebound of a Kings miss led to a throw-out to a streaking Bojan Bogdanovic, who looked to have a decent shot at a bucket given the 1-on-1 scoring scenario. Instead, his theoretical defender bailed out, leading to an uncontested layup.
By the time Conley made his long-awaited return from a lingering hamstring ailment, Utah led by a dozen (the Jazz closed the period with a 38-22 advantage) — and the game would never get closer than that again.
“We’ve got a group that they play for each other. When you do that, the basket gets bigger and everybody shoots the ball with confidence ’cause they feel like they’re supposed to,” said coach Quin Snyder. “There’s never a ‘My turn,’ it’s always, ‘Our turn.’”
Bogdanovic’s latest incendiary offensive performance saw him drop in 30 points on 10-for-15 shooting, including 6 of 9 from deep. Gobert was stellar again on both ends, racking up 28 points (on 9-for-11 shooting), 15 rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
Donovan Mitchell and sixth man Jordan Clarkson, both typically known for being wallflowers on the offensive end, even contributed 22 and 20 points, respectively. Ingles had but three points on 1-for-7 shooting, but made up for it with 12 assists and nine rebounds.
“Once again, our defense was on point. Our communication was key,” said Bogdanovic. “… Rudy was a monster once again. He was great.”
Sacramento tried to make a game of it early in the third quarter. The Kings came out of halftime playing a noticeably more uptempo pace, looking to generate some easy buckets in transition. And it worked for a time, with three straight 3-pointers rallying the team to within 70-58.
That, however, only served to get the Jazz to take off the cruise control. The ensuing 17-4 blitz made it a 25-point game.
Conley, meanwhile, pretty much ended the Kings’ last gasp.
After they climbed back to within 14 in the fourth quarter, the veteran point guard found himself wide-open at the 3-point line on the right side above the break. Showing no hesitation despite missing his two previous attempts, he calmly buried the triple that brought the crowd — and his teammates — out of their seats.
All in all, he took it pretty slow in his limited action, contributing three points, three assists, two steals and one rebound, in 15 minutes, 14 seconds of action.
“Mike’s as much a part of our group and the identity we built … that’s who he is,” Snyder said. “The bucket that he hit was a big bucket, too. It was a momentum play and he gave us a little bit of a boost. It says a lot about him that he’s not thinking of himself at all.”