New York • Quin Snyder and Mike Conley both spent part of their pregame media availabilities on Wednesday explaining how the sheer number of new players on this Jazz team has led to extended periods of deference, of being overly unselfish in many circumstances.
Hours later, the Jazz were of the opinion that their exceedingly easy 112-104 victory over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden contained just the right amount of unselfishness.
Utah racked up 26 assists on 41 made baskets — including eight from hometown star Donovan Mitchell and six apiece from Mike Conley and Joe Ingles.
“When we’re getting stops and we can get out and run, we have a chance to move it, and we’ve got a lot of guys that can shoot. So everybody feels comfortable making the open pass,” Snyder said afterward.
Actually, they seemed to feel comfortable with pretty much everything, in starting this four-game road trip 2-0, winning their third straight overall, and improving to 39-22 on the season.
Mitchell and forward Bojan Bogdanovic led the Jazz with 23 points apiece. Rudy Gobert dropped in an 18-point, 14-rebound double-double. Conley shot 6 of 9 in totaling in 17 points.
The latter, in particular, made an impression on his teammates with his ability to dictate the rhythm of the game.
“He’s aggressive. He really starts the game looking out for his teammates, and as a point guard he gets us all going. And then when the second unit comes in, you can see that he’s attacking the rim, shooting his shots, and that’s what we need,” Gobert said. “I think he’s really controlling the tempo for us and finding his groove again. I think the injury probably took out his rhythm a little bit, but tonight we saw the real Mike.”
One play of his in particular stood out to his coach.
After New York’s Wayne Ellington missed a 3-pointer less than 3 minutes into the second quarter, Georges Niang grabbed the rebound and fed it to Conley, who outmaneuvered a defender to loft the ball ahead to reserve big man Tony Bradley, who outran everyone downcourt and dropped in a layup for a 42-31 advantage.
“Maybe the best play, in my mind, of the whole night,” Snyder said. “… Those are the kind of plays that we’re gonna need and do need. Some of those plays, they weren’t missing because of competitiveness, it’s just instinct and habits. And sometimes if a habit isn’t completely there, you have to be more urgent. And that’s what I saw tonight, particularly in that situation. That’s been a consistent theme, and I want it to continue.”
They weren’t perfect, of course — even against a Knicks team playing poorly enough to elicit yet another “Sell! The! Team!” chant from the crowd to owner James Dolan.
A stagnant offensive stretch to end the second quarter in combination with some lax defense that yielded a third-quarter-opening 9-2 run for the Knicks made it just a 3-point game.
Once the Jazz got their urgency back, however, they responded with a 21-9 run that made it a 15-point lead after three quarters — an advantage they expanded to 20 less than halfway through the fourth.
“I think we just tightened up. We felt like we were a little too loose defensively. They were attacking us and we didn’t have a reaction,” Gobert said. “I think we took a timeout [after the 9-2 run] and then we came out really as a different team. Runs are going to happen, but when we cut them short, we’re able to react quick, and it’s great.”
The caveat, of course, is that it happened against a Knicks team that is now 19-43 on the season. The other wins in the current streak, for that matter, came against two other Eastern Conference bottom-feeders.
So then, with the decidedly better Celtics up next on Friday, where does this Jazz team stand?
They themselves are eager to find out.
“I’ve been overly critical the past few games just because I wanted to see us do more and more,” Mitchell said. “I’m happy with how we’ve played, but we’ve got to bring the same intensity against Boston.”