It was a blowout that became a nail-biter, a beautiful display of passing and transition that devolved into isolation play and stagnant, fruitless 1-on-1 attacks.
It was a surefire big win that turned into … well, still a win.
And so while the Utah Jazz know there’s plenty to clean up from Tuesday night’s unexpectedly close 117-105 victory over the Detroit Pistons at Vivint Arena, they also weren’t a somber, apologetic bunch afterward either.
Following Sunday’s blowout loss in Denver, they weren’t going to feel bad about winning Tuesday, whether the end result was pretty or not. In fact, they even managed to find a silver lining to it all.
“It shows a little bit of growth. We’ve had games where we’ve been up on teams in the past and have led the lead slip, and then for whatever reason, in the last minute and a half, we don’t execute or do things defensively to win the game,” said Mike Conley, who finished with 20 points, five assists and four rebounds. “And tonight, it showed our resiliency.”
After seeing a 28-point advantage sliced all the way to four with just two minutes to play, there was definitely some resiliency needed.
Delon Wright’s 3-pointer to pull Detroit with one bounded off the rim, and Conley grabbed the rebound, pushed the pace, aggressively drove the lane, sucked in the defense, then whipped a pass to Bojan Bogdanovic in the left corner for a 3 that swished right through.
[Read The Triple Team: Jazz find their energy, lose it, then find it again to get win over Pistons]
After Josh Jackson missed another 3 for Detroit, Conley kicked it to Royce O’Neale, who aggressively drove the lane, sucked in the defense, and whipped a pass to Bogdanovic in the same exact spot for another 3 that provided a 10-point lead and some breathing room with 49.1 seconds to play.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder said he was not surprised the Jazz let the Pistons back in it, calling that nothing more than a good rally by a good team forcing his own players to perform tentatively for a spell.
The important part was that Utah figured it out and got back to what worked when it mattered most.
“When you do build a lead like that, the other team gets a little looser, they shoot the ball a little freer, and that’s when you have to really continue to execute and continue to put your foot on the gas,” Snyder said. “And I thought the way that we finished the game, we really we got going again, we got running again. It’s a little counterintuitive — when the game gets tight, sometimes you want to try to manage the game, and we need to continue to try to run and play.”
In succession, each of Snyder, Bogdanovic, Conley, and Donovan Mitchell (who finished with 32 points on 10-of-17 shooting) emphasized after the game the need for the Jazz not to resort to trying to protect the ball in such situations, not to sit on leads, but to keep attacking and being aggressive and pushing the pace and finding advantages.
That said, they also all acknowledged that it’s hard to do so all the time.
“It’s a lot to be able to run the way we do — we got old guys on the team,” Mitchell joked. “I make fun of them all the time.”
They also gave Detroit a ton of credit for not simply giving up when the game appeared to be out of hand.
“Sometimes when you build a big lead like that, the whole kind of narrative becomes, ‘What happened?’ because you didn’t win by 30,” Snyder said. “These are NBA teams. They’re good teams. There’s going to be runs. And I think the big thing for us is to make that hard.”
“I think you take for granted how hard it is to sustain leads in this league,” Conley agreed. “Up 28, you want to push it to 40 and 50, but it just doesn’t [always] happen. These teams play with pride and they play free, and tonight, you know, we let them back in the game.”
And then they shut the door for good.
They know that against better teams than the Pistons, they’ll not have as much runway to withstand such errors, that their killer mentality must be sharpened. And they know that there are tweaks and adjustments they’ll have to continue to make — throughout the entire season.
But on Tuesday, they came away with a win, improved to 16-5, and re-took the league’s best record. And they’ll take it.
“They made a hell of a run,” said Mitchell, “and we made a hell of a counter.”
JAZZ 117, PISTONS 105
Grant 9-18 7-8 27, Griffin 4-13 2-3 11, Plumlee 7-11 3-3 17, Ellington 1-7 1-1 3, Wright 4-13 0-0 8, Bey 2-6 0-0 5, Doumbouya 0-1 0-0 0, J.Jackson 7-15 5-5 22, Mykhailiuk 1-1 0-0 3, Stewart 2-3 0-0 4, McGruder 2-5 0-0 5. Totals 39-93 18-20 105.
Bogdanovic 5-12 4-4 18, O'Neale 5-11 0-0 12, Gobert 2-4 5-6 9, Conley 7-15 4-4 20, Mitchell 10-17 8-11 32, Favors 2-4 2-2 6, Niang 1-4 0-0 3, Ingles 1-5 2-2 5, Clarkson 5-10 0-0 12. Totals 38-82 25-29 117.
Detroit 22 24 31 28 — 105
Utah 33 36 25 23 — 117
3-Point Goals_Detroit 9-27 (J.Jackson 3-7, Grant 2-5, Bey 1-2, Griffin 1-6, Ellington 0-2, Wright 0-3), Utah 16-42 (Mitchell 4-7, Bogdanovic 4-8, Clarkson 2-6, Conley 2-6, O’Neale 2-6, Ingles 1-4, Niang 1-4). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Detroit 46 (Plumlee 14), Utah 44 (O’Neale 13). Assists_Detroit 18 (Grant 4), Utah 23 (Ingles 6). Total Fouls_Detroit 21, Utah 17. A_3,902 (18,306)