For the better part of three quarters Monday night, the Utah Jazz were playing listless basketball — not bothering with transition defense, forcing isolation looks, being careless with the ball, consumed by arguing with the refs.
They were down double digits to the Charlotte Hornets with the game soon to go to the final 12 minutes.
And then they flipped the mother of all switches.
Rudy Gobert shut down the paint and the perimeter defenders locked up the Hornets’ shooters. Georges Niang and Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson suddenly had all the open looks they could ever dream of, and didn’t miss. And a blistering, incendiary, soul-crushing 26-2 run in a 5-minute stretch turned what was shaping up to be a bad loss into a ridiculously easy 132-110 victory.
“The way we played throughout the course of the game, that’s the team we want to be. The No. 1 team in the league wins a game like that,” said Donovan Mitchell, who shook off six mind-boggling turnovers to finish with 23 points, eight assists, and four rebounds. “I think that’s really where our head is at — that’s where we have to continue to be.”
Utah was down as much as 81-70 before starting to get things turned around. They trailed 90-85 when the real happened.
It began, strangely enough, with a Mike Conley 3-pointer that didn’t count.
Charlotte somehow sent six players out onto the court out of a timeout, and no one noticed until right about the time Conley still found himself wide-open — playing five-on-six — for a 3. The shot was waved off, the officials called a technical foul, and Clarkson made it.
Then he followed with a layup, and Niang added a 3 for a quick little 6-0 burst to end the period and put the Jazz on top.
They were just getting started.
In the fourth, Clarkson threw an alley-oop to Gobert for the latter’s first basket of the game. Then Clarkson hit a 3. Gordon Hayward got a bucket for Charlotte, but then … Niang hit another 3. The Clarkson his another. Then Niang hit another. Then Conley hit one. And then Niang hit another one.
Twenty-six to two.
It took less than 5 minutes. In that stretch, the Hornets shot 1 for 6 (thanks, in part to back-to-back blocked shots by Gobert) and committed two turnovers. And just like that, the Jazz were up 111-92.
“They were really, really comfortable the whole game. We know we didn’t have much physicality, much disruption in the first half, and they were feeling good. And when we started getting into them a little, get physical, protect the basket, it was a different game,” said the Frenchman, who finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and six blocks. “Most of the time we’re going to be able to score, but if we don’t play defense, we’re not not going to go nowhere.”
Niang likewise gave the credit to Gobert and his defensive efforts for sparking the turnaround. But considering the Iowa State product obliterated his shooting slump with a 7-for-7 effort beyond the arc, no one was gonna let him get away with that kind of deflection.
“You can get frustrated if you’re not seeing the ball go in the basket, particularly someone like Georges, who’s as good a shooter as he is. I just liked the fact that he didn’t hesitate and he kept shooting,” said coach Quin Snyder. “And that’s how you break through, you keep shooting it. … His shooting is something that, when he’s on like that, it’s a big deal for us. He’s a weapon.”
Niang, of course, was completely zen and absolutely understated about his breakout: “When you make shots, life is great, there’s no problems ever in the world.”
Meanwhile, with Ingles going 7 of 10 from deep for 21 points, and Clarkson hitting 5 of 10 beyond the arc for 20 points, Utah’s bench set an NBA record with 19 made 3s (as part of a new team-record 28 overall).
“That’s an incredible accomplishment. Nineteen 3s is a is a lot of points,” Niang added. “I wasn’t a math major, but that’s a lot of points.”
And with that, they could afford to momentarily shrug off the 23 turnovers that led to 25 Hornets points. They could temporarily forget that their pick-and-roll defense was a sieve for nearly three quarters. They could take a minute to douse Niang with water bottles in a postgame celebration, and revel in being 25-6 on the season.
Snyder will ensure that the reckoning will come.
But in the meantime … yeah, that’s a lot of points.