Wednesday afternoon’s Utah Jazz game wasn’t always pretty. In fact, there were times it was downright scary, challenged as they were by a short-handed, winless-in-the-bubble Memphis squad.
Long stretches of sketchy defense. Frequent sequences of offensive dry spells with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert on the bench.
In the end, though, a resurgently aggressive Joe Ingles, a steady Mike Conley, and an efficient effort from the 3-point line powered Utah to a 124-115 victory over the Grizzlies in a game played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Ingles drilled six of Utah’s 18 made treys en route to 25 points (plus five assists and four rebounds), Conley added 23 points, seven assists and five boards, Gobert contributed 21 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks, and Mitchell chipped in 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists, as Utah snapped a two-game losing streak.
Asked what made the difference this time around, Ingles was his typically snarky self.
“Donovan picked a better ball at the start of the game,” he quipped.
Then, as is his custom, Ingles explained what really happened.
“Everyone’s probably passed up a bit and not been — not aggressive — but probably not taking advantage of some opportunities,” he elaborated. “Obviously, picking my spots and my time, it’s a part of it … finding when I can be aggressive.”
The second and fourth quarters proved opportune times for that.
Memphis surged ahead at the end of the first period, thanks in large part to seven Utah turnovers. Late in the second, down double digits, the Jazz responded with a 22-1 run, powered by eight points from Ingles and five assists from Conley.
After the Grizz closed the gap again in the third and into the fourth, that duo seemed to step up time and again to push Utah back in front every time.
On a Memphis turnover, Ingles sprinted to the 3-point line above the break and called for the ball, which he got. Swish. A few minutes later, Conley broke a tie game with a 3 of his own, and the misfiring-of-late Jordan Clarkson followed by driving the lane and nailing a running floater for a 107-102 lead the Jazz wouldn’t relinquish.
The Jazz wound up making 18 of 45 from deep — a 40% conversion rate more on par with their regular-season figures than what they’d shown in the bubble.
“The way the season has gone, with such a long time off, we can’t forget we were the highest-percentage catch-and-shoot team in the league for 60 games,” said coach Quin Snyder. “That may not mean we’re the best, but we’re certainly pretty good, so I don’t think our guys have forgotten that. They just need to take them and keep taking them.”
He was particularly pleased to see another strong game from Conley.
“You have to find a comfort level, and I think that’s happened with him. That doesn’t just come down and land on you — you have to work at that. And sometimes you have to go through some things to learn and get comfortable and figure it out,” Snyder said. “That’s what he’s gone through. And he’s such a good player. He’s one of those guys [that] it’s a privilege to coach him. He can do so many things on the court.”
Conley said that his understanding of the Jazz’s schemes and his role within them is such now that being out on the court is enjoyable again.
“Really, I’m just starting to have fun with it. I know exactly what’s asked of me, I think it’s really clear. I’ve had this whole year to learn, I’ve had time off to adjust and prepare myself, and now just go out there and play the game I’ve always played and do what I can for the team,” Conley said. “I’m just having a good time doing it. I really do enjoy being out there and just getting back to doing the things I normally do.”
The rest of the Jazz are now, undoubtedly, hoping the same is true of them all.