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After some subpar deep-shooting games, the Utah Jazz get back to raining down 3s

Monday’s victory in New Orleans sees Utah belatedly commit to running and spacing, and the result is a game-changing 19-for-39 performance from beyond the arc.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) drives to the basket against New Orleans Pelicans forward Herbert Jones in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. The Jazz won 115-104. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Not surprisingly, Quin Snyder was not a huge fan of the way the Utah Jazz started Monday night’s game in New Orleans.

Three points in their first seven possessions. Nearly seven minutes elapsed to reach double-digit scoring. Not really finding any kind of flow until the final three minutes of the opening period, when the never-shy-to-shoot Jordan Clarkson buried three 3s in four attempts.

“We were in mud early in the game, and when that happens, we basically build a wall for ourselves,” Snyder said. “We can’t have any pace, we can’t have any force. And that’s a hard way to play, especially when we’re a team that’s trying to attack.”

Which makes it all the more remarkable that Utah wound up busting loose for 19 made 3s and a 48.7% conversion rate from deep in their 115-104 victory over the Pelicans.

Coming into Monday’s game, the Jazz were averaging 15.0 made 3s per game on 36.3% shooting from deep. But they hadn’t made 15 or more 3s in any of their past five games. And they’d only managed to best that season-long percentage once in that stretch.

In effect, the Jazz had not managed a game of at least 15 made 3s on at least 36.3% shooting since their victory over Minnesota on Dec. 23, when they went 16 for 39 (41.0%).

So, what exactly changed at the Smoothie King Center, especially given their inauspicious beginning?

Well, everyone had some different things to point to.

For Snyder, it was getting out of the slog and into a track meet.

“It starts with the running for us,” he said. “It’s not like the old Lakers’ Showtime, where we’re running for layups and dunks. We’ve got to run in order to create space so that we can play in a larger space, where our quickness and our shooting, that combination, can give us an advantage.”

To his point, the Jazz totaled exactly zero fast-break points against the Pelicans, and gave precisely zero people an impression of Magic and Worthy.

And yet, holding the Pelicans to just 40.2% shooting overall and 12 of 46 from 3 (26.1%), and then amassing 22 assists on 41 made baskets played a definite role.

“First was just get a stop, get a boxout, get a rebound, and run,” explained Mike Conley. “We didn’t really get into a good flow until we started getting out, pushing the ball, throwing it ahead. We weren’t necessarily getting layups, but we were creating opportunities for ourselves by throwing it ahead, driving into the paint, kicking it out to the next guy, and getting easy looks. It allowed everyone to get into a rhythm, touch the ball, and get a good flow to our game.”

That’s about right.

Conley buried four 3-pointers en route to a 22-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist night. Donovan Mitchell hit five 3s in totaling 29 points and five dimes. Bojan Bogdanovic had five made 3s himself in scoring 21 points.

After struggling with their efficiency from deep in Saturday’s showdown loss against Golden State, Utah’s players discussed extensively the difficulties they had vs. the Warriors’ long-armed, switching defenders. That was initially the case again Monday, before, Mitchell said, the Jazz simply had enough and went about doing things differently.

What was unique this time?

“The screw-it mentality: just let it fly. Not overthinking it, just catch-and-shoot, letting it go,” Mitchell said. “We’ve played two teams who have pretty athletic, long wings, so our shots aren’t going to be as open as they are against other teams. We kind of got to a point where we said, ‘You know what? Screw it. We’re just gonna let it fly and shoot.’ [We were] finding guys and continuing to move the ball. That’s who we are.”

Or, as Bogdanovic put it: “We are just moving the ball and playing the right way.”

It wasn’t perfect, or even as close as human beings playing basketball get to perfection. You remember that mucked-up start to the game, don’t you? Anyway, Snyder said there are a few players turning down open looks who need to knock that off. He sees room for more connectedness yet. And the running needs to be far more consistent to generate the spacing they require.

And yet, as the Jazz held on for their ninth consecutive road victory with a 33-point fourth quarter that saw them make 55% of their shots and 60% of their tries from beyond the arc, he also saw signs of progress — attacking mismatches, recognizing and adapting to blitzing coverages, making quicker decisions.

“It was,” he concluded, “really good late.”

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