Utah Jazz’s defense roars back to life, as they crush the Bulls in road trip finale

Rudy Gobert posts a career-high nine blocks, as Utah cruises to a 120-95 victory in Chicago.

(Paul Beaty | AP) Chicago Bulls' Lauri Markkanen (24) shoots as Utah Jazz's Rudy Gobert (27) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, March 22, 2021, in Chicago.

Sure, the latest 3-point barrage got a lot of airtime on the highlight reels, and it was a huge component …

But the Utah Jazz’s 120-95 victory over the Bulls on Monday night in Chicago was more about getting their defense right again.

After spending the majority of the season ranked in the top five in the league in defensive rating, Utah had slipped in a major way over the past dozen or so games — regressing to 21st in the league over that stretch by virtue of allowing about 113 points per 100 possessions.

Monday was a pretty different story.

“Getting stops keys everything for us. That’s where our mindset has to be, and tonight we came out with a real sense of purpose,” coach Quin Snyder said afterward.

While the Bulls got four quick baskets in the game’s opening minutes by attacking the rim, they did not get much easy after that.

Because, for some reason, they kept attacking the rim.

Really, the only areas where Chicago had any modicum of success all night were in transition (25 fast-break points) and, as a result, at the basket (62 points in the paint).

However, that strategy didn’t really pay off like they hoped, as they also saw Rudy Gobert register a career-high nine blocked shots (and just miss out on the Jazz’s first regular-season triple-double since 2008).

“They kept trying to attack him — I don’t know why. I wouldn’t,” teammate Donovan Mitchell said in a befuddled tone.

“I don’t know why guys continuously do that. But, you know, it helps us, because he’s out there just being an animal — on the perimeter, in the mid-range, at the rim. So it helps us and it allows us to be more aggressive,” Mitchell added. “And he’s starting to really go out there and just prove himself every night without really saying much.”

While Gobert’s blocks certainly put an exclamation point on Utah’s defensive effort, it was about much more than that.

The Bulls were brutal in the midrange (they made just 6 of 27 shots — a 22.2% conversion rate).

They were terrible beyond the arc (6 for 26 — 23.1%).

They barely got to the free-throw line (11 for 12, half of which came in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand).

They got virtually nothing off of Utah turnovers (six points).

And so it was that the Jazz closed out their five-game road trip having perhaps resolved some of the issues that plagued them during their previous swoon.

So dominant was Utah that Gobert remained in a bit longer into garbage time than he normally would, in an effort to end the triple-double skid.

Though Snyder’s official party line was that “We’re not looking to play for stat lines,” the fact remains that Gobert and the still-struggling Bojan Bogdanovic were out there with just minutes remaining alongside the likes of Miye Oni, two-way guard Trent Forrest, and the newly signed Ersan Ilyasova, who was making his Utah debut.

Gobert said he had no idea how many blocks he had until he subbed out with about 7 minutes to go, when his backup, Derrick Favors, enthusiastically clued him in.

“I never try to chase that, but once I knew it was nine, it was, ‘Let’s go for it!’” Gobert said with a smile.

He didn’t ever get there, but that proved only a fleeting concern.

“He had an opportunity to get it, he didn’t get it, but we got the win. And I know that’s what he’s most concerned about,” Snyder said.

And, indeed, in his postgame interview, while Gobert smiled broadly when asked about coming thiiiiiiis close to the triple-double, and spent a bit of time praising his teammates for being so encouraging.

“It’s night and day. When we when we do that … we’re a different team,” Gobert said. “When we’re able to score off our defense, and be able to not let the other team keep going and get confidence, that’s the team that we want to be. We know that when we come with that focus every single night, we’re a great team.”

JAZZ 120, BULLS 95

UTAH (120)

Bogdanovic 3-14 2-2 8, O'Neale 1-3 0-0 3, Gobert 9-11 3-3 21, Conley 5-12 2-2 15, Mitchell 11-19 3-3 30, Brantley 0-0 0-0 0, Favors 1-3 0-2 2, Ilyasova 0-1 0-0 0, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0, Niang 0-2 0-0 0, Oni 2-2 0-0 6, Ingles 6-8 0-0 17, Clarkson 6-16 3-3 16, Forrest 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 45-92 13-15 120.


Markkanen 3-12 2-2 8, Williams 3-6 0-0 6, Young 7-14 0-0 14, LaVine 10-25 3-3 27, Satoransky 5-7 3-3 13, Carter Jr. 3-5 0-0 6, Porter Jr. 1-4 0-0 2, Felicio 0-0 0-0 0, Gafford 2-3 1-2 5, Kornet 0-0 0-0 0, Arcidiacono 0-3 0-0 0, Mokoka 1-1 0-0 2, Valentine 0-4 2-2 2, White 4-12 0-0 10. Totals 39-96 11-12 95.

Utah 29 27 33 31 — 120

Chicago 23 19 29 24 — 95

3-Point Goals_Utah 17-39 (Ingles 5-6, Mitchell 5-8, Conley 3-5, Oni 2-2, O’Neale 1-3, Clarkson 1-8, Bogdanovic 0-5), Chicago 6-26 (LaVine 4-10, White 2-5, Markkanen 0-2, Williams 0-2, Valentine 0-4). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Utah 46 (Gobert 10), Chicago 49 (Young 9). Assists_Utah 25 (Mitchell 6), Chicago 21 (LaVine, Satoransky 4). Total Fouls_Utah 16, Chicago 14. A_0 (20,917)