Turns out, the Utah Jazz are pretty good when Rudy Gobert is out on the court and actively engaged.
Also when Mike Conley is hitting shots.
Utah dominated the stretches when Gobert was on the floor in Saturday’s scrimmage against the Miami Heat, and took it to another level still when Conley shook off a rough-shooting first half with a sublime third quarter.
With the young, end-of-the-bench guys sent in to decide the outcome of the contest, the Jazz wound up holding on for a 101-99 victory inside the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
After attempting all of three shots on Thursday against Phoenix, Gobert had that many buckets in the opening minutes vs. Miami. He wound up racking up 21 points on 8-for-9 shooting, plus eight rebounds and two blocks in just under 24 minutes of action. He was a team-best-tying plus-15 while out on the court.
However, it was quite a different story whenever Gobert went to the bench, as backup Tony Bradley routinely struggled to keep up with Miami’s floor-spacing big men, and the Jazz blew several double-digit leads in those stretches.
“Rudy was very good. I thought he made himself available, and really, Mike and Donovan [Mitchell] just did a terrific job of finding him,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “When Rudy is out of the game, that group’s been really solid, [but] this was a tough matchup for that group, particularly for Tony, because they had really good-shooting bigs, and in transition you had to find people.”
Perhaps of even more importance: As Snyder mentioned, Gobert displayed great pick-and-roll chemistry with Mitchell, who counted three lobs to Gobert among his four assists.
Not bad for a couple of guys whose relationship is reportedly unsalvageable.
The Frenchman said it came down to a subtle adjustment he made from the first scrimmage to the second, as well as simply outstanding court vision from Utah’s playmakers.
“I tried to get off the screens quicker than I did against Phoenix, and then they did a great job looking for me and throwing it up there,” Gobert said.
Conley, meanwhile, overcame another slow start to put in another solid performance. After going just 1 for 6 from the floor before halftime Saturday on an assortment of good looks that simply would not drop, he found the range after the break, making his next five attempts — both beyond the arc and on his trademark righty floaters — en route to a 17-point, six-rebound game.
After two straight games of struggling early, then finding his way after the break, Conley said it’s just a matter of continuing to pick his spots and trusting that the results will come.
“The game before, I think I was a little bit less aggressive. This game, I came out and was trying to look for shots, trying to look for plays to be made downhill. The ball just didn’t fall in the hole,” Conley said. “But as the third quarter comes around, I go back and I kind of rethink everything, look at the spots I can be effective at, and as soon as I came out [onto the floor], I started thinking, ‘All right, I got to take more midrange shots, more floaters, really put pressure on the rim.’ I was able to do that.”
With Gobert and Conley leading the way, the Jazz were able to overcome a pedestrian night from Mitchell (who managed just eight points on 3-for-11 shooting), a zero-point afternoon from Joe Ingles (who at least had six assists to make up for it), and a nightmarish outing from Bradley, who had zero points, just two rebounds, and four fouls in over 14 minutes.
Overall, the defensive effort was far superior against Miami than it was vs. Phoenix, after Snyder spent the pregame breaking down the need for improved on-ball containment, weakside shifting to discourage penetration, and better utilization of speed. to account for lack of size.
He also suggested that with Bojan Bogdanovic out, you could expect Utah to start taking more off-the-bounce 3s — an idea that Jordan Clarkson certainly embraced in a 4-for-9 effort from deep.
The game’s other key development was the coach’s increasing usage of a smaller quartet surrounding Gobert on the court — he frequently deployed Mitchell, Clarkson, Royce O’Neale and either Conley or Emmanuel Mudiay alongside the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year. And though that group had some early defensive issues, they quickly displayed perimeter-swarming, pace-pushing potential.
“A lot of our 3s were coming in transition, when guys were running,” Snyder pointed out. “They all want each other to attack and to shoot. So it’s good when they’re getting encouragement from us and then giving encouragement for each other to put up those shots.”