Saturday night’s game in Orlando — the latter half of a back-to-back — saw the Utah Jazz get off to a slow start, scoring just 22 points in the first quarter on 10-for-25 shooting, including 2 of 11 from deep.
Asked what he learned about his team after they ultimately got in gear and pulled away for a 124-109 win against the Magic, coach Quin Snyder quipped, “Well, we’re not allowed to be tired.”
Joe Ingles, ever the contrarian, wasn’t playing along: “I don’t care what he said — I was tired!”
For large stretches of the game against the injury-depleted Magic, Utah’s players certainly looked lethargic, sometimes even dead on their feet.
Until, of course, they roared back to life.
The Jazz made 24 of 38 shots after halftime — that’s 63.2% — in scoring 70 points over the final 24 minutes. Donovan Mitchell notched 25 of his 31 after the break. After a back-and-forth first half, they came crashing out of the gates in the second and wound up leading by as many as 19 points.
The key, said Rudy Gobert — who went 6-of-6 from the floor in totaling 12 points, 16 rebounds, three assists and two blocks — was channeling what limited energy they did have early into the right areas, and then letting that slow-building wave of momentum carry them the rest of the way.
“Personally, I was tired early, and then I felt better and better. Some games, you know, you don’t have the legs, but in those games we have to make sure that we have our heads. We have to make sure that we communicate even more, that we are moving the ball even more,” said Gobert. “We have a deep enough team to still play a very high level of basketball on both ends. … I still feel like we we put our energy on defense. And when we do that, you know, regardless of if we’re tired, if we’re not tired, we’re going to be in position to beat anybody on any given night.”
The team’s mantra all season long has been finding ways to keep getting better. And on Saturday, they showed yet again that they can find new pathways to victory, that they can shake off lethargy and still wind ways to prevail, even when they’re at less than their best.
In that fairly lackluster opening half, they shot 8 of 25 on 3s … and 4 of 11 at the free-throw line … and allowed Orlando to go 8 for 16 from deep … Mitchell didn’t register his first points until he drained a 3 with 5:51 remaining until halftime … and Bojan Bogdanovic didn’t score until there was 1:46 left in the first half, when he was gifted a technical free throw.
And yet, in spite of all of that, they held the lead, largely because they were dominating the boards — particularly on the offensive end, where they turned seven rebounds into 17 second-chance points — and they were also thoroughly shutting down everyone not named Nikola Vucevic.
Still, Snyder thought they were capable of more, and he wanted to see it. And soon enough, he did.
The Jazz scored on their first three possessions of the second half (on a Mitchell 3, a Mitchell layup, and a Bogdanovic layup, respectively), and on six of their first nine overall — including a pair of couldn’t-be-more-wide-open 3s from Ingles, who’d go on to finish with 17 points and seven assists while starting in place of Mike Conley, who sat out as a bit of preventative rest in response to his prior hamstring injury.
The second of those Ingles 3s gave Utah its first double-digit lead of the night, at 69-59, and had the coach convinced his team was on its way.
“The way we started the game, we weren’t pushing the ball as much as we wanted to, and we didn’t get some of the catch-and-shoot 3s. I think we just continued to to commit to that,” said Snyder. “A lot of the things that we’ve talked about doing, we were doing. And it starts, always, with getting stops. But I felt like the ball really started to get up the court quickly and it was moving. And when the ball’s moving, that’s when we’re a good team.”
Just about everyone helped deliver that needed jolt of energy.
Mitchell dropped 15 points in the third period and 10 more in the fourth, while still being enough of a playmaker to deliver six assists. Gobert and backup Derrick Favors controlled the glass. Jordan Clarkson, as hair-triggered as ever, bounced back from a rough night in Miami by not only scoring 18 points on 7-for-16 shooting, but also contributing six points and five assists. Georges Niang kept the offense alive through some lulls, scoring 13 points on 5 for 8. Even Miye Oni delivered in an expanded role, nailing a pair of 3s and grabbing a couple offensive rebounds to generate some crucial extra possessions.
“It’s crazy — you can go down the list about who we can get involved,” Mitchell said. “It’s crazy how many options we have.”
It’s also crazy how they found that extra gear after coming out so apparently weary; crazy how they turned a potential trap game into another eventual blowout; crazy how thy saved themselves from a second consecutive defeat (his time against a less-than-illustrious opponent) that would have empowered disbelieving critics to call into question all their previous strong play and dismiss it as fool’s gold.
Seems as though Snyder was right after all: These Jazz don’t get to be tired.
“I mean, we did get in at 3 a.m. or whatever time was … but, yeah, the schedule is what it is — every team is going through it, we’re not the only team that’s playing back-to-backs, or have flights getting in late or whatever,” noted Ingles. “You can probably tell with my eyes how glassy they are. I was tired this morning when we when we first woke up. … [But] I think it’s more of a mentality of not using it as an excuse.”
JAZZ 124, MAGIC 109
Bogdanovic 2-8 5-5 10, O'Neale 3-6 0-0 7, Gobert 6-6 0-4 12, Ingles 7-13 0-0 17, Mitchell 10-19 6-8 31, Brantley 0-0 0-0 0, Favors 3-4 4-5 10, Morgan 0-1 0-0 0, Niang 5-8 0-0 13, Oni 2-4 0-0 6, Clarkson 7-16 2-2 18, Forrest 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 45-85 17-24 124.
Aminu 3-6 0-0 7, Bacon 5-8 2-2 13, Vucevic 14-26 1-1 34, Carter-Williams 2-4 1-2 5, Fournier 7-20 1-1 16, Clark 0-0 0-0 0, Okeke 2-3 0-0 5, Ross 4-16 2-2 10, Bamba 4-6 0-0 11, Randle 3-7 0-0 8. Totals 44-96 7-8 109.
Utah 22 32 33 37 — 124
Orlando 21 29 26 33 — 109
3-Point Goals_Utah 17-45 (Mitchell 5-8, Niang 3-5, Ingles 3-8, Oni 2-4, Clarkson 2-9, O’Neale 1-4, Bogdanovic 1-6), Orlando 14-34 (Vucevic 5-7, Bamba 3-3, Randle 2-5, Aminu 1-2, Bacon 1-3, Fournier 1-7, Ross 0-6). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Utah 52 (Gobert 16), Orlando 37 (Vucevic 8). Assists_Utah 29 (Ingles 7), Orlando 27 (Carter-Williams, Randle 7). Total Fouls_Utah 14, Orlando 18. A_4,242 (18,846)