Perhaps it’s not surprising that after an emotionally exhausting evening the night before, and on the second night of a back-to-back, and facing an opponent missing most of its top players, the Utah Jazz played as though they knew they could play around a bit and still be alright.
To be fair, that was pretty much the case.
Saturday night’s 124-116 victory over the visiting Houston Rockets won’t do much for those who often wonder if the Jazz lack a killer instinct …
Then again, it did very much have the feel of a cat that had caught a mouse and was more interested in batting it around for awhile than simply eating it.
Or, maybe, perhaps they were simply fighting through a tough night.
“After a big win, we kind of got a little, like — I don’t know if you want to call it a hangover, but we put a lot of energy into that [Nuggets] game, wanting to win, and then coming in, this is how you sometimes you slip up on games and you lose these sometimes,” noted Jordan Clarkson. “… It’s definitely something we just had to really fight through mentally and just keep pushing.”
Georges Niang put it even more simply.
“After an emotional night like [Friday] night, these are what we call — in the NBA — trap games,” he said.
Perhaps. Which isn’t to say there isn’t plenty of minutiae within their performance to dissect.
For starters, the defense was much too loose, as the Rockets’ cast of cast-offs wound up drilling 18 3-pointers — three more than the Jazz made.
Utah also struggled against Houston’s defense switching players 1 through 5, and wound up giving the ball away 18 times, which led to 26 points off turnovers for the Rockets.
That contributed to another poor effort in transition, as Houston racked up 28 fast-break points.
And there’s something to be said for being up 22 points with 3 and a half minutes to go, and not being able to take out the starters because they surrendered a game-closing 14-0 run.
And so it was that players already fatigued by a most unusual season, and depleted further by having Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley out for extended periods, wound up having to put players on the court for many minutes more than should have been necessary.
“I’m not going to disrespect or discredit what they did tonight — they play extremely hard. Obviously, they’re in a tough position. … A lot of their main guys were out tonight. Yeah, there’s things we can do better and fix. But part of it, too, like I said, they play hard as hell,” said Joe Ingles. “… But if I’m a bit better with the ball, you probably don’t even have that question, to be honest.”
Were the Jazz playing with fire? Ever in any real danger as a result?
Well … probably not. Still, after leading by as much as 22-7 in the first quarter, it wasn’t optimal that they finished the period tied at 32. And it was less encouraging still that the Rockets would subsequently lead by as much as 42-35.
However, considering Utah was back up by as much as 10 before halftime and was never truly challenged thereafter, it’s perhaps hyperbolic to suggest they were ever genuinely threatened by the likes of KJ Martin, Khyri Thomas, and DaQuan Jeffries.
The Jazz simply had too much firepower.
One night after Bojan Bogdanovic notched a career-high scoring night against Denver, Niang did the same vs. Houston, tying his best-ever scoring game in the NBA with a 24-point effort (on 9-for-12 shooting).
Meanwhile, Clarkson contributed 21 points, Bogdanovic added 20, Ingles had 14, and Rudy Gobert and Royce O’Neale put in 13 apiece.
And after going just 6 for 17 from 3-point range in the opening half, Utah did wind up canning 15 for the game on 39.5% shooting beyond the arc.
Beyond that, the defense picked up appreciably in the third quarter, when the Jazz limited Houston to 23 points on 7 for 24 from the field (29.2%).
Naturally, there is a bigger picture — notably, the Jazz did what they needed to do, picked up the victory, and earned their 50th victory of the season, keeping them atop the NBA standings.
And coach Quin Snyder continues to advocate the need for the Jazz to improve day after day — something he noted Saturday’s win will provide.
“Sometimes it’s emotional, it’s mental, and it’s physical. And, you know, I think it’ll be good for us,” Snyder said. “When a team is playing as small as they are, and they’re athletic, and they’re switching 1 through 5 [on] pick-and-roll, I thought it was an opportunity for us to get better playing against that defense.”