Well, the Utah Jazz did not solve their 3-point shooting woes on Thursday night against Portland.
As it turns out, though, there are other ways to score, other ways to win.
The Jazz even figured out ways to use some of them once they got over their lethargic, moribund, tired opening half.
The end result? At its most basic, a 122-103 victory over Portland.
A layer below, though? Calming the rising panic that surely would have overtaken a significant swath of the fanbase had Utah dropped three games in a row, all to likely Western Conference playoff qualifiers.
And maybe proving a little something to themselves as well.
“It was a must-win,” Donovan Mitchell declared emphatically. “First off, we don’t want to lose two in a row. And then you definitely don’t lose three. That’s kind of the mindset. So, this was a must-win.”
How fortuitous for the Jazz, then, that playing high-activity defense, forcing bad shots and/or turnovers, pushing the ball down the court consistently, and either getting to the rim or working the open spaces in the midrange proved effective substitutes for still-absent 3-point shooting.
Passing the ball around — it worked.
Putting effort in on the boards — it paid off.
Playing with energy and force — it had an impact.
“That’s really how we took the game over,” coach Quin Snyder said. “Donovan, obviously, attacking the rim and making plays. … Our ability to move the ball, regardless of who’s attacking. … Our defense was the biggest thing. And our defensive rebounding in the third quarter, I thought, really broke the game open.”
In the first half, Utah was showing all the signs of a tired team playing its third game in four nights, their legs apparently heavy after an intense overtime affair the night before. The blender? Psssshh … that would require movement, which would require energy. And so, isolation — bolstered by the occasional kick-out pass for a 3-point try — was the order of the day, at least initially.
And they got what you’d expect out of that.
With only eight assists on 20 first-half baskets, Utah went into the break trailing 56-53.
And it’s not that a three-point halftime deficit was some egregious failing against Portland, but considering the Jazz had a 28-23 rebounding advantage, had committed only five turnovers, allowed just four offensive rebounds and a mere five fast-break points … well, that’s their recipe for a sizable advantage, not a deficit.
Halftime, as usual, seemed to provide the juice they needed.
Hands were in passing lanes, and feet were sliding into better position. Suddenly, neither Damian Lillard nor CJ McCollum could buy a basket. And the Jazz pushed the pace. Again and again.
“Getting out in transition — that was really the difference tonight,” said Mitchell. “… Just making a conscious effort of getting out and running, pushing the pace, was good by us.”
In one memorable sequence, he pump-faked a 3, drove past the now-out-of-position defender, looked like he was going to challenge the rim protector for a vicious throw-down attempt, but then contorted his body instead for the easy layup. (He finished with 37 points, five rebounds and four assists — and shot 13 of 17 inside the arc.)
On another, Rudy Gobert fought off the diminutive-by-comparison (and aptly-named-in-this-case) Nassir Little, snared a rebound over the top of him, shot-faked, then simply mauled him out of the way for a lay-in-and-one. (He finished with 18 points, 20 rebounds, and two blocks.)
The Jazz won the third by a 40-19 margin.
They won the rebounding battle 69-48.
“We got better throughout the game — our communication got better, our aggressiveness got better,” said Gobert. “… I think if we rebound the way we rebounded tonight, we win the game against Phoenix, even shooting the way we shot.”
Speaking of which … In the end, it was another lackluster performance from beyond the arc — rookie Elijah Hughes burying their final attempt of the night got them to 12 for 42 (28.6%) for the game.
It’s just that with all the other stuff they finally did, that didn’t matter so much this time.