Every opposing coach this season who’s discussed the Utah Jazz has inevitably praised them for their balance, for their ability to mix electrifying playmaking and shooting on one end with smothering stinginess on the other.
Friday night’s 129-115 victory over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks was an apt illustration of how lethal a cocktail that can be.
Four Jazz players combined for 105 points, with Joe Ingles going haywire from the outset, Jordan Clarkson carrying the load in the second, and then Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert pouring it on late.
“We were attacking. … Early, we were really aggressive shooting the ball,” said coach Quin Snyder. “… Donovan attacking the rim, Rudy attacking the rim, that gave us more of that aggression. No one cares who scores and no one knows who’s going to score if we’re playing the right way.”
The other side of the coin, meanwhile, saw Royce O’Neale score zero points on 0-for-4 shooting, but still register a massive impact on the game with 10 rebounds and a defensive effort that flustered two-time reigning Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo into just two points on 1-for-3 shooting in the first half — and thus giving Utah some well-utilized breathing room.
“Royce did a great job guarding him” said Gobert, who finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocked shots. “Obviously, it’s always a team effort to slow him down, but Royce did an amazing job, especially in the first half.”
Milwaukee did just enough in the second half to prevent the final outcome from being an embarrassment, but otherwise had no answers for any of it.
The Jazz were simply too … well, balanced.
Asked if Utah’s players were ever awed by the sheer number of options they have for taking a game over (even with Mike Conley missing his third consecutive game with a hamstring injury), Mitchell conceded he was in disbelief on several occasions Friday night.
“I don’t know if you could see it or not, but there were times when Joe’s hitting 3s and I’m just turning to the bench like, ‘Wow!’ You know what I mean?” said Mitchell, who had 26 points, eight assists and six rebounds. “And then you got J.C. coming in and doing what he does, then you got Rudy getting into the paint, then you got Bojan, you got myself, you got Royce, you got guys who are continuously making plays. And that’s something that we thrive off of. And the best part about it is we don’t really care who it is. That’s what separates us from a lot of other teams, and that’s what’s going to hopefully get us to that next step.”
Indeed, Ingles got the ball rolling with an early shooting display so ridiculously efficient that he couldn’t help but talk some trash to the Bucks’ bench, and they had nothing they could say in response.
The Aussie scored the team’s first three buckets and four of their initial five — all from 3-point range. He added a couple more beyond the arc late in the second quarter off some ridiculous assists from Mitchell, and went into halftime having racked up 20 points on 6 of 7 from deep.
He would finish with a career-high-tying 27 points for the game — earning a joking postgame rebuke from a questioner about why he “refuses” to surpass his high mark.
“I mean, I don’t go out there and try to break it. I’ve never gone into a game: ‘Tonight’s the night I’m going to break it,’” Ingles began, as Mitchell entered the interview room. “Obviously, Donovan finally let me get a couple shots early tonight, which he usually doesn’t because he’s so selfish.”
“That’s not what you said at shootaround!” Mitchell shot back, laughing in the background. “You said you were going for the record!”
Yeah, the Jazz were enjoying themselves in the aftermath of their sixth consecutive victory and their 17th win in their past 18 games.
They know that being 21-5 doesn’t mean anything in the long run if they don’t also have some postseason success.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate what they’re pulling off in the meantime.
“You have to enjoy it, you know? That’s really the mindset that I have, and as a leader, I try to make sure that we keep that as a team,” Gobert said. “We know our ultimate goal, but at the same time, we know that we have to enjoy the journey, and we have to enjoy every single game, and not let that kind of pressure affect us in a negative way. It’s all a positive pressure, because we put the work in, we’ve worked pretty hard to be able to be in the position that we are in right now, and it’s exciting.”
Jazz 129, Bucks 115
G.Antetokounmpo 12-20 4-6 29, Middleton 6-14 4-6 18, Lopez 8-18 4-6 23, DiVincenzo 2-9 0-0 5, Forbes 2-6 0-0 5, Craig 2-3 0-0 6, Portis 7-13 0-0 15, T.Antetokounmpo 0-0 0-0 0, Adams 0-0 0-0 0, Augustin 2-7 7-9 12, Connaughton 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 42-92 19-27 115.
Bogdanovic 3-10 2-2 9, O'Neale 0-4 0-0 0, Gobert 9-12 9-13 27, Ingles 8-11 4-4 27, Mitchell 6-20 13-14 26, Favors 5-5 0-0 10, Niang 2-2 0-0 5, Oni 0-0 0-0 0, Clarkson 10-18 1-1 25. Totals 43-82 29-34 129.
Milwaukee 31 21 30 33 — 115
Utah 35 34 27 33 — 129
3-Point Goals_Milwaukee 12-33 (Lopez 3-9, Craig 2-2, Middleton 2-4, G.Antetokounmpo 1-2, Augustin 1-4, DiVincenzo 1-4, Forbes 1-4, Portis 1-4), Utah 14-38 (Ingles 7-9, Clarkson 4-11, Bogdanovic 1-5, Mitchell 1-9, O’Neale 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Milwaukee 33 (G.Antetokounmpo 15), Utah 46 (Gobert 12). Assists_Milwaukee 19 (G.Antetokounmpo 6), Utah 22 (Mitchell 8). Total Fouls_Milwaukee 28, Utah 22. A_3,902 (18,306)