Ahead of Thursday night’s rematch against the Utah Jazz, Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce very much had the teams’ Jan. 15 meeting on his mind, wherein the Jazz blew Atlanta off the court with corner 3-pointers and transition buckets.
“So instantly you’re figuring out, ‘We’ve got to take that out of the game.’ And so we have some strategy and that’s a focal point for us,” Pierce said cryptically.
Sure did and sure was. On Thursday, the Hawks were overplaying the perimeter, running the Jazz off the line, swarming the paint, junking up the running lanes, basically daring Utah to shoot from the midrange.
And for two quarters, the Jazz happily obliged.
Upon figuring out, though, that doing so only got them one of their worst halves of offense all season, they quickly figured things out in the second, imposed their will, and rolled to a 112-91 victory.
“They were throwing some different things at us — we’re gonna start seeing teams do a lot of that,” noted Jordan Clarkson, who was one of the few seemingly unperturbed by Atlanta’s tactics, as he finished with a game-high 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting. “… A lot of teams are going to try to take things away from us — a lot of catch-and-shoot opportunities, stuff like that — but we’re prepared, and we’ll just keep trying to get better at that.”
Other teams are, indeed, bound to start throwing some new wrinkles at the Jazz, because that first half could not have gone much worse offensively.
All too compliant in abandoning the 3-point attack that’s made them the talk of the league, the Jazz were a middling 5 of 12 from deep before the break. They had only two fast-break points and just six points off of eight Hawks turnovers in the first half. They also had just six assists against 10 turnovers of their own.
The only saving grace was that their defense remained sufficiently stout to render a Hawks team missing All-Star guard Trae Young (among others) even more impotent, as Atlanta shot just 30% from the field and totaled but 37 points.
Still, coach Quin Snyder was of the opinion that Utah’s problems were more self-inflicted than the product of Atlanta’s schematic machinations.
“People are going to try to take things away. I didn’t necessarily think the pressure bothered us as much as we just weren’t real precise,” he said. “And, you know, that can happen. I like the fact that we figured it out a little more in the second half.”
That’s an understatement.
With Mike Conley finally freed from the shackles of three first-quarter fouls that limited him to eight scoreless minutes before the break, both he and the Jazz collectively got going after it.
They drained a pair of 3s in the first 3+ minutes of the third quarter. Conley both attacked the rim and darted behind Rudy Gobert screens to get some better looks from deep, and wound up scoring all 11 of his points in the period. After scoring all of 45 points combined in the first and second quarters, the Jazz dropped 35 in the third alone, on 14-of-24 shooting. Meanwhile, with Atlanta totaling just 26 points on 8 for 24, Utah finished the quarter up 17 points and firmly in command.
Key moment • After making all of five total 3-pointers in the first half, the Jazz make two in the first 3+ minutes of the third, expanding their lead to 55-41.
Big number: 67 • After managing just 45 points in a stilted, turnover-prone first half, a renewed commitment to transition offense propelled them to 67 points post-halftime.
Up next • The second half of Utah’s back-to-back comes Friday at Charlotte, with tipoff against the Hornets set for 6 p.m. MT.
“Man, that first half was rough. Just never really got the flow, never got the ball, never really put any impact on the game. And I got to sit there and kind of watch and get ready for the third quarter,” Conley said. “I knew that I was gonna come out and be aggressive and take command a little bit more, and just look for opportunities to make plays, and I got out there I was able to do it.”
Gobert, who had 11 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks, and an incalculable defensive presence at the rim, presented an alternate theory for his teammate’s sudden resurgence.
“He’s been in the league for 25 years,” the Frenchman began with a smirk, “so he knows how to control the pace and he can feel the game more than all of us.”
Actually, Gobert is pretty confident in all his teammates’ ability to feel the game, and very much of the belief that as more and more opponents follow the Hawks’ lead and begin throwing new looks and schemes and plans at the Jazz, they’ll be able to work it out.
“We’ve got all the weapons we need to attack any type of coverage, any type of defense, and we’re usually able to figure it out pretty quick once we see the way they want to play us,” Gobert said. “… So whatever they try to do, we always find a way to just adapt and keep getting what we want, which is the rim and the 3s.”
Conley agreed, pointing out that while the Jazz will take a win any way they can get it — including the way they did Thursday in improving to 17-5 this season — their continuing mission of perpetual self-improvement means that, as they ready to face Charlotte on Friday, they recognize they have plenty yet to improve upon.
“We’re a team that definitely looks at every single detail, every small situation, and look at something for us to fix or a lesson to be learned. Tonight, we have plenty of those lessons, plenty of those times where we made mental errors, made mistakes, and kind of lacked effort in certain situations,” Conley said. “So we’ll definitely learn from it. We’re playing at a high enough level to be able to win the game, but we can’t rely on that and we know that, so we have to continue to work.”
JAZZ 112, HAWKS 91
Boj.Bogdanovic 9-14 2-2 21, O'Neale 1-4 0-0 2, Gobert 5-12 1-2 11, Conley 5-10 0-0 11, Mitchell 7-18 1-1 18, Brantley 2-2 0-0 6, Favors 2-5 5-6 9, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0, Niang 1-7 2-2 5, Oni 0-1 0-0 0, Ingles 3-5 0-0 6, Clarkson 9-13 0-0 23, Harrison 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 44-91 11-13 112.
Collins 6-16 4-4 17, Reddish 5-14 2-2 12, Capela 3-14 0-0 6, Huerter 7-14 0-0 16, Rondo 0-7 0-0 0, Gallinari 1-6 3-3 5, Hill 2-4 1-1 6, Fernando 1-2 2-2 4, Knight 2-3 1-1 5, Goodwin 1-10 3-4 6, Mays 0-3 2-2 2, Snell 4-5 0-0 12. Totals 32-98 18-19 91.
Utah 20 25 35 32 — 112
Atlanta 16 21 26 28 — 91
3-Point Goals_Utah 13-27 (Clarkson 5-8, Mitchell 3-5, Brantley 2-2, Boj.Bogdanovic 1-2, Conley 1-3, Niang 1-4), Atlanta 9-31 (Snell 4-4, Huerter 2-5, Hill 1-2, Goodwin 1-5, Collins 1-6, Gallinari 0-2, Reddish 0-3, Rondo 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Utah 52 (Gobert 12), Atlanta 49 (Capela 17). Assists_Utah 19 (Mitchell 5), Atlanta 19 (Rondo 8). Total Fouls_Utah 20, Atlanta 15. A_1,261 (18,118)