Utah Jazz get back on track, beating Bucks behind a record 3-point effort and some defensive stinginess

Draining 25 shots from deep, limiting the turnovers, and holding Milwaukee scoreless for 11 possessions all help end the Jazz’s two-game slide.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) is double-teamed by LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and LA Clippers guard Patrick Beverley (21), in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the LA Clippers at Vivint Arena, on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021.

The Utah Jazz were blown out in Brooklyn. Then blew an 18-point lead in Manhattan. So, naturally, in Milwaukee on Friday night, against a Bucks team that came in having won four in a row, the Jazz pretty much led from start to finish.


Their 131-118 victory perhaps wasn’t quite the total team effort that Jordan Clarkson said the team had been missing since its season-opener in Portland, but it probably wasn’t too far off.

The franchise-record 25 made 3-pointers obviously played a bit of a role in the result.

But so too did Royce O’Neale being a bit more aggressive and having one of the best games of his career.

And the Jazz, as a team, committing only 10 turnovers.

And the combination of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors anchoring a defense that held Milwaukee scoreless for more than five minutes to start the fourth quarter.

And Clarkson carrying the offense in the first half (20 of his 23) and Donovan Mitchell doing the same after the break (20 of his 32).

And Mike Conley not only putting up the most quiet 17 and 10 you’ve ever seen, but taking on more of the ball-handling responsibilities with Joe Ingles shockingly missing a game.

And Bojan Bogdanovic ditching his wrist brace and surreptitiously dropping in a 20-piece.

In a league presently defined by “pace and space,” the Jazz made expert use of both on Friday. It not only led to an avalanche of open looks beyond the arc, it kept the offense from bogging down and committing giveaways.

“Just pushing the ball. A lot of time, it’s just keeping the defense on their heels; instead of the defense dictating what we do, we kind of dictated the whole game. That’s really what it is,” said Mitchell. “They’re a team that’s known for blowing stuff up, and making us use another action, and we didn’t allow that to happen today. … We kind of dictated the whole game. We were ready for it, ready to continue to push, continue to fight through. It’s not easy to keep running and continue to push the pace, but we did it, and we got to continue to do it.”

And as for the space …

“Our spacing makes all the difference in the world,” said coach Quin Snyder. " … The running stretches the floor and opens the floor up, and we’re able to shoot quicker in the possession. So we don’t have as many possessions where the ball is being grounded out.”

Of course, it works most optimally when everyone is taking the shots that are there.

In previous games, an open O’Neale or Ingles, for instance, have sometimes been prone to hesitating on such shots, perhaps feeling selfish, and then, having waited a beat too long, they wind up swinging the ball, only for the offense never to get such a good look the rest of the possession.

This time, O’Neale fired away. His confidence there seeped in to the rest of his game, and he wound up with an 18-point, eight-rebound, six-assist, three-steal, one-block night.

“I mean, we’ve been telling him to shoot that, because some guys, they try to muck off of him, and throw different coverages at him. We’ve been preaching that,” Clarkson said of his teammate. “…Seeing Royce have a game like that, we know he can do that, we know he can shoot the ball, we’re confident in him doing that. So expect more of those games from him, getting up more 3s, having those opportunities and making those shots.”

Him shooting and hitting had a domino effect.

As part of the Jazz’s 25-for-53 effort from deep, O’Neale made six 3s, Clarkson and Conley had five apiece, Mitchell and Bogdanovic each had four, and Georges Niang’s one completed the set.

“That’s a strength of our team; we’ve got a lot of guys that can make those shots,” Snyder said. “We’ve been banging that drum for the first day — we want guys to take 3s.”

Of course, in spite of all that prolific and efficient offense, it was arguably a defensive stretch that made the biggest difference and broke the game open.

The Jazz entered the fourth quarter leading 104-96. With Gobert and Favors anchoring Utah’s defense,Milwaukee came up empty on its first 11 possessions of the final period — missing eight shots and committing three turnovers.

Meanwhile, Utah capitalized, going on a 12-0 run that expanded the eight-point advantage into a 116-96 lead that effectively sealed the deal.

Milwaukee would not get on the board until the 6:47 mark of the fourth.

That’s what the Jazz have been wanting to see. And that’s what they must see more of going forward.

“We’ve got to be able to find a way to continue to play at that level,” Mitchell said. “At the end of the day, this is one game; we can’t play like this and then have a letdown in Detroit.”

JAZZ 131, BUCKS 118

Key Moment • A 12-0 run in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter (as Milwaukee went 11 possessions without scoring) expanded an eight-point advantage to a 116-96 lead.

Big Number: 25 • The tone was set in the opening quarter when the Jazz attempted 17 shots beyond the arc and just four inside it. That ratio wouldn’t continue, but they still wound up drilling a franchise-record 25 shots from deep.

Up Next • The road trip rolls on, with game 5 of 7 coming Sunday afternoon in Detroit. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. MT.