After the Pacers played from behind for most of Sunday’s game in Denver before rallying for the victory, the Jazz knew that Monday night’s opponent was dangerous and not to be trifled with.
And so, there was no trifling.
Every time Indiana appeared to be lingering on the periphery of a comeback, it was the Jazz who uncorked a key run to pull away, as they earned a 118-88 victory at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The win not only pushed the Jazz to 30-13 on the season, it also went a long way toward answering any nagging doubt about whether this team is legitimately good, or merely feasting on subpar competition.
Yes, the Pacers likely came in tired, given that they were on the second night of a back-to-back. That didn’t make Utah’s offense any less efficient, or its defense any less stingy.
“We didn’t give up any second shots, for one thing, and when they did go on a run, our defense stayed solid,” coach Quin Snyder said. “… For the most part, when you’re consistent defensively, you give yourself a chance for good things to happen.”
Safe to say, Utah was consistent defensively, as Indiana hit just 41.9% of its shots for the game, and only 7 of 26 from 3-point range (26.9%). No Pacer scored more than 12 points. The Jazz even demonstrated how markedly improved they are in transition defense, as their 21 turnovers yielded only 16 points scored off of them.
Furthermore, Utah committed only 11 fouls all game (leading to only seven free-throw attempts for the Pacers), and also dominated the boards, finishing with a 53-30 advantage in spite of Indy’s double-big man front line featuring Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner.
“That was really what we wanted to do — don’t give them any free throws, don’t give them anything at the rim, and don’t give them any rebounds,” said Rudy Gobert. “We did a great job doing those three.”
Meanwhile, the Jazz made plenty of noise on the other side of the ball, too.
Utah drilled 54% from the field, and buried 12 of 31 beyond the arc (38.7%). Donovan Mitchell racked up 25 points on 11-for-19 shooting. Gobert amassed 20 points (for the fourth time in five games) on 8 of 11 (plus 14 rebounds and a block). A quiet night from Bojan Bogdanovic still produced 16 points.
And that once-shaky second unit got another couple big performances too, as Georges Niang hit a trio of 3s for 15 points, while Mike Conley, in just his second game back following a lengthy absence due to a hamstring strain, poured in 14 on 6-of-8 shooting.
“The way we’re playing — it’s exciting. The ball’s hopping, everybody’s happy, we’re talking. These are the days that you really remember,” Niang said. “We have to not take these for granted, continue to work, and stretch these into more winning streaks.”
As the Jazz’s swarming defense forced Indy into five turnovers in the first half of the first quarter, their offense seemingly capitalized every time — making 8 of 11 from the field and pouring in 18 points.
And thus was born a trend of the Pacers trimming the deficit a bit, only for the Jazz to again pull away.
Early in the second period, Indiana crawled to within four points, following which Conley sparked an 18-5 run with an open 3 followed by a midrange jumper.
“Mike started to find a rhythm tonight, which was good to see” said Snyder. “And some of those run-stopping plays were some shots that he hit.”
Late in that quarter, the Pacers went on a 12-4 spurt to get the game within single digits. Joe Ingles closed the half’s scoring with a trey, and Utah came out of the break notching the first five points to restore the sizable advantage once more.
From that point on, the Pacers never again posed a serious threat, and the Jazz were on their way to a potentially signature victory.
Not that they were looking at it that way.
“We never want to be the team that gets beat, no matter who we play,” Gobert said. “So we try to come out every night with a high level of urgency and focus.”