‘We could have avoided that’: What went wrong with the offense in the Utah Jazz’s 96-86 win in Detroit

Mike Conley says opponents are sure to throw the same defense at the Jazz until they demonstrate that they can handle it.

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) shoots as Detroit Pistons center Jahlil Okafor, left, defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

As the Utah Jazz wrapped up their abysmal third quarter Sunday in Detroit — one which saw them shoot 6 for 20 overall, 0 for 7 from deep, commit six turnovers, and watch a 17-point lead get trimmed to six as a result — the cameras captured head coach Quin Snyder tossing his whiteboard into the team huddle on the endline, then walking back to take a seat on the bench.

His parting message?

“‘There’s nothing on the clipboard, X’s and O’s-wise, that is going to change the game. It’s got to be within our team, and our mindset defensively, and our mindset to run up and down the court,’” recounted point guard Mike Conley. “So he put it on us.”

And they came through.

No, their first-half offensive magic wasn’t suddenly rediscovered — they actually shot worse, in terms of percentage, in the fourth — but they did do enough defensively and on the glass to slog out a 96-86 victory over the Pistons.

Snyder was pleased to see his players find a way.

“We punched back. I thought they threw some punches and we took the punches and came back. It’s something our guys take a lot of pride in,” he said. “I just felt like that was within them and they pulled it out of each other. Sometimes they don’t need to hear me say too much other than, ‘You guys take care of it.’ And they did tonight.

“I said it maybe a little more forcefully than that,” he added with a smile.

Speaking of “forcefully,” though, he and several of his players subsequently acknowledged that they’ll need to play that way more going forward.

Because while they’re surely happy to have their defense progressing toward once again becoming one of the league’s elite, that alone ultimately puts them only right back where they were two seasons ago if they don’t have a finely tuned offense to go along with it.

So, what exactly went wrong on offense Sunday?

The first half saw Utah get off to a brilliant start — they scored the first nine points of the game (including seven by Donovan Mitchell on 3-for-3 shooting); a 15-0 run later in the opening quarter expanded their advantage from three points to a 30-12 lead; and in spite of a lull just before halftime, they still were hitting 3s at a 40% clip in the opening 24 minutes, in which they racked up a 17-point advantage.

None of it would stick. But why?

“Them switching one through five in the pick-and-roll,” Snyder said. “We haven’t seen that in a little while. Just [need to be] a little more poised in how we attack that.”

Conley elaborated, noting that as the Pistons’ altered scheme began to prevent so much penetration into the lane, the Jazz played right into Detroit’s hands by not maintaining their ball movement.

“We can get a little bit sticky with the ball, and guys get a little bit too much one-on-one going,” said Conley, who finished with 22 points, six assists, and five rebounds. “In the first half, they weren’t playing that way — we were able to get in the paint and make plays for each other and kind of get the ball spinning around the perimeter in that fashion.”

The result of the change, in simple, stark numbers: 24 of 46 shooting overall (52.2%) and 8 of 20 from deep (40%) before the break; 11 of 37 overall (29.7%) and 3 of 15 from deep (20%) after it.

Mitchell, who racked up a team-high 28 points, was pleased the Jazz were able to overcome their struggles against the Pistons, but was frustrated with the inconsistency.

“We just got to find ourselves. We’ve been here so many times — we have a lead and the next thing you know, they come back with some pressure,” he said. “Two weeks ago, we lose that game. So I think right now, for us to win this game the way we did is a step in the right direction. But we can’t be satisfied with it. We’re happy with the win, but we could have avoided that.”

Conley agreed, noting this wasn’t the first time the Jazz have come up against this defense, and, after the way they performed in Detroit, it surely won’t be the last.

“They made the adjustment, and it’s an adjustment that a lot of teams have made against us; it happened in our Phoenix game and it’s going to happen again in the future,” he said. “So we’re going to have to continue to work on it and figure it out as it goes.”


Key moment • With Utah leading only 91-86, Rudy Gobert lost control of the ball, turning it over. He’d make up for it, though, blocking a Mason Plumlee shot with 1:13 to go, and grabbing the key rebound.

Big number: 62-39 • The Jazz kept a bad situation from becoming worse by dominating the rebounds 62-39 and thus preventing too many second-chance opportunities for the Pistons.

Up next • The penultimate matchup of the Jazz’s seven-game road trip is against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. MST.