There was plenty of reason for the Utah Jazz to potentially be stressed, with news of their Wednesday game in Washington being postponed breaking shortly before Tuesday night’s tipoff in Cleveland.
Georges Niang, though, was not about to get distracted or upset — not after the meditation session he’d just had.
“Just being where my feet are, just being present, not overthinking things. For the first time in a while, I sat in my room and just closed my eyes and just tried to be present,” Niang said. “And then I turned on Michelle Branch’s ‘Breathe’ and everything just seemed to get a little better.”
Wait — Michelle Branch? Seriously?
“One hundred percent,” Niang replied. “You think I’d lie to you?”
The relaxation must have rubbed off, because Utah’s 117-87 domination of the Cavaliers was their most laid-back effort of the season.
Granted, Cleveland missing eight rotation guys played a significant part in that. Still, this was a game that, while not perfect, saw the Jazz not mess around and play down to the level of their competition.
And more importantly, while Donovan Mitchell was struggling early, and Mike Conley had a rare slow night, and Rudy Gobert was once again off-kilter on the offensive end, the Jazz got contributions from throughout the roster to keep things rolling.
Jordan Clarkson carried the load before halftime, when he scored 14 of his 21 points (he also added eight rebounds). Niang had by far his best game of the season, drilling 6 of 11 shots, including 2 of 4 from deep, in totaling 14 points and five boards. Even Miye Oni stepped into an expanded role, on account of Joe Ingles sitting out for the second time in three games.
Coach Quin Snyder referenced both their efforts Tuesday and, more obliquely, how the Jazz will need to be prepared for the kinds of situations like the one that befell their would-be Wednesday opponent, the Wizards.
“As the course of the season goes on,” Snyder said, “we’re going to need guys coming off the bench and being ready to go.”
He got that vs. Cleveland.
With many of his teammates seemingly laboring to get much going early, Clarkson took it upon himself to take over, as he went 5 of 10 overall and 4 of 7 from deep before the break to strong-arm the Jazz to a 49-36 advantage.
While attributing much of the success he’s had this year to being freed up by all the attention paid to the likes of Mitchell, Conley, and Bogdanovic, he allowed that his own ability to simply relax on the court has enabled him to take another step in his game.
“I’ve made changes in terms of not taking the super-tough twos that I did early on in my career. And kind of slowing down, letting the game come to me,” Clarkson said. “Sometimes I still push it to the limit and get in spots I shouldn’t be in, and I turn it over or miss a tough shot or they steal it or something. But I’m trying to cut down on those plays, and making the easy one and letting the game come to me — it’s a process I feel like I’ve made strides in.”
As for Niang, well, considering he came into the night averaging just 1.3 points per game on 26.3% shooting and 18.8% from deep, it’s safe to say that simply making a few baskets took a load off.
“You have no idea,” he said. “It feels good, obviously, to see the ball go thru the hoop.”
Still, relaxed and relieved as he was to finally perform well, after scoring more points Tuesday than he had in his previous 10 games combined, he was more thrilled to have played a big role in the Jazz improving to 7-4.
“I’m happy that [the scoring] happened, but I’m more ecstatic that we came out and closed out a team from start to finish like we did tonight,” Niang said. “That was a heck of a win for us, especially on this long road trip.”
Oni also did his part, racking up 18 minutes off the bench in Ingles’ absence, and acquitting himself well by making 2 of 4 tries from deep, and adding three rebounds, two assists, and three blocks to his six points.
Snyder was particularly pleased with the way the second-year wing defended.
“I know he takes a lot of pride in his defense,” Snyder said. “There was a couple plays tonight — I don’t know if you can call them hustle plays, but when he got up and blocked a 3-point shot at the end of the clock, those are the kind of plays that can really be impactful in the game, particularly if you’re not playing extensive minutes.”
Though the way this season is going, those minutes could get extended at any time.
JAZZ 117, CAVALIERS 87
Key moment • If Cleveland had any hopes of turning the game around coming out of halftime down just 13, the Jazz’s opening 8-1 salvo to make it a 20-point game quickly disabused them of that notion.
Big number: 8 • Cleveland came into the game missing eight rotation guys — including the likes of Kevin Love, Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, and Andre Drummond.
Up next • With Wednesday’s matchup at Washington postponed by the Wizards’ COVID-19 situation, the Jazz’s next game is now Friday against Atlanta at Vivint Arena.