Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder stubbornly insisted prior to Wednesday’s nationally televised matchup with the depleted-and-struggling Los Angeles Lakers that his aim remains squarely upon seeing his team continue to improve — that while they want to win games, of course, such matchups are not about proving they can hang with or knock off L.A., but that they can continue to learn and evolve.
How much was gleaned from a game against a team missing All-Star Anthony Davis and starting point guard Dennis Schröder is up for debate. But it sure was proven that the Jazz could both hang and win.
Their 114-89 blowout victory at Vivint Arena yielded a 26-6 record on the season.
Obviously the defending champs were short-handed, and obviously the game likely would have taken a different path had L.A. been at full strength. The Jazz couldn’t do anything about that. They could only play who was out there. And between some more scintillating outside shooting, another lockdown defensive effort, and some strong all-around performances from their two All-Stars and their would-be one, they pretty much annihilated the Lakers that were out there.
“We just want to continue to keep the same mindset and focus as if they were out there. At the end of the day, everybody’s coming for us,” said Donovan Mitchell, who finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. “I think the best thing about this game was we continued to keep our foot on the gas every step of the way. There wasn’t a moment in the game where we played like we were up.”
They surged ahead for good with an early-second quarter stretch in which Jordan Clarkson hit a 3 … and LeBron James turned it over … Royce O’Neale hit a 3 … and Talen Horton-Tucker travelled … then Mike Conley hit a 3 … and just like that, Utah’s one-point lead was suddenly a 35-25 advantage.
Utah continued to bury 3-pointers at an absurd rate, finishing 22 of 48 for the game, while the Lakers … well, they finished 8 of 33.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Jazz reminded everyone that they remain an elite defensive team. Though their own 3-point prowess dissipated a bit in the third quarter, they nevertheless turned a 16-point halftime lead into a 26-point one going into the final quarter by virtue of holding Los Angeles to a mere 17 points on 5-for-21 shooting in that 12-minute stretch.
“I think we did a great job defensively. Regardless of who we’re facing, or who’s playing, who’s not playing, we want to make sure that we come in every single night with the mindset of defending,” said Rudy Gobert, who registered 18 points and nine rebounds in just 27 minutes. “… We [also] did a great job sharing the ball offensively. And when we defend, and we share the ball, it’s hard to beat us.”
There wasn’t much the Lakers could do with Utah’s backcourt of Mitchell and Conley — which is saying something, considering the former missed his first six shots of the game and didn’t score a point until there was just 3:43 left before halftime, when the second of two free throws crept over the rim.
Shockingly, that put the Jazz up 52-36.
That’s because Conley scored eight quick points to open the game, and had 14 on 5-for-5 shooting by the break. And that’s also because Sixth Man of the Year frontrunner Clarkson went full flamethrower-mode, dropping in 13 of his 18 points in the second quarter.
Conley, like Mitchell, also narrowly missed out on becoming the first Jazz player since Carlos Boozer in 2008 to register a regular-season triple-double, finishing with 14 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
He conceded that he came out with a little initial aggression, still stung by not being selected as an All-Star reserve Tuesday, and then being passed over again Wednesday as an injury replacement.
The point guard added that he tried not to let it impact the way he played, and praised his team for getting him settled, but said couldn’t help but be hurt at perhaps seeing his best remaining shot at an All-Star selection pass him by in his 14th season.
“Coming out to that tonight, I honestly was just playing the way that I’ve been playing — there was just a little bit more motivation,” Conley said. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s kind of how my career has been. And I’m thankful to have the teammates I have and the coaching staff and support around me to just keep me locked in and focused on what we’re doing.”
Keep. Getting. Better.
That remains, as always, the beat the Jazz are marching to.
Snyder, asked about Mitchell’s 4-for-16 shooting night, shot back, “There’s lots of ways to play well. He’s two assists short of a triple-double tonight. So if you want to look at the box score, I’m looking at eight assists and 10 rebounds more than I am what he shot from the field. He did a lot of things tonight to help us win. He and Mike both.”
Gobert, meanwhile, was queried as to whether a 25-point victory over the defending champs, the team with the third-best record in the Western Conference, constituted a “powerful statement to the entire league,” regardless of who was playing.
He wasn’t biting, either.
The point isn’t that they crushed the Lakers, he explained, but that they did the things that will enable them to perhaps beat anyone and everyone down the road.
“It’s a good win for us, but I don’t think it’s statement,” said Gobert. “They were missing a lot of guys, they played overtime two days ago. So it’s just about getting better — every single game, getting better and getting ready for when it’s time for the playoffs.”
Jazz 114, Lakers 89
L.A. LAKERS (89)
James 7-13 4-5 19, Morris 5-10 2-4 12, Gasol 3-7 0-0 8, Caldwell-Pope 1-5 3-4 5, Horton-Tucker 3-12 0-0 8, Antetokounmpo 0-0 1-2 1, Cacok 2-2 0-0 4, Dudley 1-2 0-0 3, Kuzma 2-7 0-0 5, McKinnie 1-3 0-0 2, Harrell 7-12 2-3 16, Caruso 1-8 1-2 3, Matthews 1-4 0-0 3. Totals 34-85 13-20 89.
Bogdanovic 5-10 0-0 15, O'Neale 2-4 0-0 6, Gobert 8-12 2-3 18, Conley 5-10 0-0 14, Mitchell 4-16 3-4 13, Brantley 1-2 0-0 2, Favors 5-5 2-4 12, Morgan 0-0 1-2 1, Niang 2-8 0-0 6, Oni 2-3 0-0 6, Ingles 1-3 0-0 3, Clarkson 6-13 2-2 18, Forrest 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 41-87 10-15 114.
L.A. Lakers 23 24 17 25 — 89
Utah 24 39 27 24 — 114
3-Point Goals_L.A. Lakers 8-33 (Gasol 2-5, Horton-Tucker 2-5, Dudley 1-2, Kuzma 1-3, Matthews 1-4, James 1-5, Caruso 0-3, Caldwell-Pope 0-4), Utah 22-48 (Bogdanovic 5-8, Conley 4-6, Clarkson 4-10, Oni 2-3, O’Neale 2-4, Niang 2-6, Mitchell 2-7, Ingles 1-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_L.A. Lakers 45 (Morris 9), Utah 53 (Mitchell 10). Assists_L.A. Lakers 17 (Horton-Tucker 5), Utah 28 (Conley, Mitchell 8). Total Fouls_L.A. Lakers 15, Utah 16. A_4,912 (18,306)