Ahead of Saturday afternoon’s game, Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder was asked how — with leading scorer Donovan Mitchell, defensive centerpiece Rudy Gobert, All-Star guard Mike Conley, and bench stalwart Derrick Favors all sitting out — he planned to adjust.
“Well, if you got any ideas, you can let me know,” he quipped.
Snyder, of course, was not actually in need of tactical assistance.
But with necessity being the mother of invention and all, Snyder found him himself having to be inventive in unique and unprecedented ways against the Lakers at Staples Center.
Starting Ersan Ilyasova at center.
Encouraging him to shoot.
Early and often and over and over to legitimately utilize their new five-out presence.
Uncorking an unexpected 2-3 zone in the fourth quarter.
Turning to rookie two-way guard Trent Forrest for some emergency ball-handler minutes.
Eschewing small-ball for awhile and going to an oversized lineup that included Jarrell Brantley at the 4, Georges Niang at the 3, and Bojan Bogdanovic at the 2.
Some of it worked brilliantly, other parts might get scrapped immediately, and none of it ultimately proved quite enough Saturday, in the Jazz’s eventual 127-115 overtime loss to Los Angeles. But if it yields some matchup advantage, some little snippet, one small moment that might prove useful down the line, well, then it probably pays off.
Snyder, for his part, claimed he wasn’t going all mad scientist as much as he was simply trying to put together a workable rotation.
“More than experimentation, we were just trying to feel the game and looking for different combinations that could help us,” he said. “We’re just trying to find different guys that could make plays and kind of connect together.”
Well, Ilyasova coming out firing and dropping an eye-popping 15 points on 5-for-5 from deep in the opening quarter alone certainly proved a help.
After coming in having scored 17 total points in his previous eight appearances combined on 27.8% shooting, Ilyasova’s incendiary start Saturdsay was equal parts shocking and revelatory.
He, naturally, said it was no big deal.
“This is the beauty of the team — everybody’s ready. Obviously it’s a long season, a lot of ups and downs as far as just injuries and things like that. [But] when I look at this team, everybody’s ready,” said Ilyasova, who finished with 20 points, five rebounds, four steals, and two blocks before fouling out after 32 minutes. “Sometimes you have no minutes, but you do your work and get ready, and when your name is called, you just get up there and do whatever’s necessary.”
Joe Ingles, who made another start as the team’s de facto ball-handler, embraced the need to be aggressive in both playmaking and scoring — not only racking up a season-high 14 assists, but also launching a dozen 3-point tries and hitting half of them en route to 20 points.
He said the biggest difference Saturday was in cutting down the playbook a bit in order not to overwhelm players making a sudden and sizable transition from fringe roles to major minutes.
“There were different guys out there for bigger stretches than normal … [so] just try and keep it a little more basic. We were missing four pretty important guys, so just keep it basic, let it flow, let guys play,” Ingles said. “… A lot of guys who don’t normally play played pretty heavy minutes, and they did a really good job. So we can take a lot of that good stuff away [from the game].”
That 2-3 zone, for instance, which dared the outside-shooting-deficient Lakers to shoot from outside, and thus helped spark a 15-0 fourth-quarter run that erased a 13-point deficit and put the Jazz up 100-98 with 4:28 to go in regulation.
Both Ilyasova and Ingles made note of the success of the zone afterward and the impact it had.
Still, even if there were positive moments, and even if the loss could be blamed on Utah’s short-handedness, and their gas tanks being empty at the end (Jordan Clarkson, coming off multiple sprained ankles, scored a team-high 27 points in a team-high 46 minutes), that wasn’t enough to appease the Aussie.
A loss is a loss in this case.
And one thing that won’t ever be any different is his desire to avoid that.
“Regardless of who’s out there, it still sucks to lose,” he said. “… It’s why we do what we do. We want to compete. We obviously want to win. That’s first and foremost. I mean, I compete at home with [my wife] Renae. I compete with my children over things. I think it’s just the nature of who we are and the jobs that we have — we want to win. … Ninety-nine percent of it is just the fact that we want to win, you want to compete, you don’t want to lose any game, regardless of who you’re playing, what the timing is, what time the games are, even if you play two 1 o’clock games [back to back]. You want to win.”