“I Think We Competed” | Five Things: Utah Locks Down Late

As one of the most veteran teams in the leagues, Utah understands how long an NBA season is. While the Jazz admit that every game is important and they want to win all 82 regular season games, they acknowledge that there will be struggles throughout the year. 

Following Wednesday’s loss to Houston, it felt that Utah was currently in the middle of one of those struggles. But sometimes, all it takes is one win to get back on track — and that’s what the Jazz did on Friday night.

On the strength of a monster double-double by Rudy Gobert and a sensational effort from the bench, the Jazz took down Detroit 111-101 on Friday night. 

“We’ve done a lot of good things, but we still have too many ‘my bad’s’ here and there that creep up and allow teams to get confidence and momentum,” Mike Conley said postgame. “I’m proud of the way we were playing with a certain type of intensity and effort, especially defensively.”

Here are five things to know following the win:

1.) Utah Is Back To Smiling And Having Fun
Following a recent skid in which the Jazz had lost six of their past seven games, some of the players admitted postgame that maybe the expectations they put on themselves this season could’ve been weighing on them more than usual. 

When speaking on Wednesday night following a loss to Houston, Rudy Gobert was honest about his assessment of where the team needs to get better. While he acknowledged that all of them have to have a more focused approach to defense, Gobert believed that having fun again would be the key to turning things around. 

“I think it’s on us to really enjoy the game and really have fun, regardless of what’s going on,” Gobert said on Wednesday. “We are playing basketball for a living, so let’s enjoy it.”

Mission accomplished!

From the big-time shots to highlight dunks and enjoyable bench celebrations, there was a much more positive vibe surrounding the Jazz on Friday night. Even when Detroit refused to quit, taking the lead in the third quarter and cutting the score to one-point midway through the fourth, Utah appeared to be having fun again. 

That sort of resiliency and mindset is precisely what made the Jazz title contenders in the first place and why those expectations were so high to start the year. Getting back to their winning ways with the proper mindset is exactly what this team needed.

“Winning helps cure a lot of things,” Conley said with a smile. “It felt like we hadn’t won in forever the way we’ve been playing and how we’ve been feeling. .. Just to get a win in the way we did tonight, it helps us build confidence.”

[embedded content]

2.) Rudy Gobert Drops A Season-High
Gobert entered Friday night’s game already in the midst of the best offensive season of his career by averaging a career-high 15.9 points per game. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he stepped up when the Jazz needed him most.

He finished the night with his league-leading 34th double-double, dropping a season-high 24 points with 14 rebounds and four blocks. He shot 8-of-11 from the field and 8-for-11 from the free throw line. His 11 shot attempts were the second-most he’s had in a month, while his 11 free attempts were the most since the start of the new year.

Gobert was sensational offensively, being very aggressive and physical, which benefitted him and the team. With him being a legitimate scoring presence down low, it opened up the driving lanes for the guards as Utah finished with 50 points in the paint. 

“I think if he can get good position down low, especially the position at the rim, or he can have his hands high and turn and finish, I think that’s the ideal position for which I can give him the ball,” Conley said of Gobert. “We’ll do that as much as we can.”

Pairing Gobert’s dominant defense with his ever-evolving offensive game, there’s a reason why he’s planting himself firmly in the MVP discussion.

3.) Bojan Bogdanovic Continues To Impress
Bogdanovic will be the first to admit it — last season was a struggle for him as he was still working himself back into playing shape following wrist surgery on his shooting hand. He entered this year still not fully healthy, trying to find his touch and rhythm and re-establish himself as one of the premier scoring forwards in the league.

After a slow start to the season, Bogdanovic has slowly found himself improving, now resembling the same player who averaged 20.2 points per game before the injury in January 2020. 

He continued his stellar play of late, finishing with a very efficient 23 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field, 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, and 6-for-7 from the free throw line. He added six rebounds and two assists.

That was just a sample size in what’s been a midseason turnaround.

Bogdanovic has improved his scoring every month this season, going from 16.2 points per game in October to 19.7 points per game in January. What’s been most impressive about the turnaround is that his three-point shooting, one of his primary weapons, has been down since the new year, but he’s become more efficient from within the arc. 

If Bogdanovic can continue this improvement throughout the rest of the year, the Jazz will be a very dangerous team come April, May, and June. 

4.) Jazz Get The Job Done With Defense
Throughout the past couple of weeks, when Utah has been struggling, many fingers were pointed to the team’s struggles on defense as to why.

“Some nights are tougher physically, mentally, for all of us, but when our life is on the line, you focus on what’s the most important? When we’re tired, what’s the most important?” Gobert said on Wednesday. “Right now, for everyone in this locker room, it should be defense. We should be like, ‘I might not make a shot tonight, but I’m going to do anything I can defensively.’”

Utah entered January with the league’s No. 5 rated defense, but that ranking was 12th before tipoff against the Pistons on Friday night. That’s what makes the victory so much better — it came on the defensive end with a strong showing in the fourth quarter. 

“I thought we did as good a job as we have this year, defending small-small pick and roll actions,” head coach Quin Snyder said. 

Utah held the Pistons to just 19 points in the final 12 minutes — but only seven came in the final 6:30 of the game. The Jazz also forced four turnovers and limited Detroit to contested three-pointers for most of its shots.

That attention to detail and ability to lock down when it mattered most made Utah so dominant in the early part of the season. If they can begin to replicate that effort, the Jazz could certainly start straining some wins together.

5.) Now Comes The Hard Part
Friday’s win was massive because it helped the team build some much-needed confidence — and it couldn’t have come at a better time. 

The road gets significantly more difficult as the schedule ramps up in a monster way. Eight of Utah’s next nine games come against teams currently ranked in the top seven of each conference — four of which come on the road. 

Four of the games come against the top three teams in the Western Conference, not to mention a showdown with Brooklyn, the top team in the east.

The Jazz start the rough stretch on the road with the most brutal back-to-back in the league. They face Golden State on Sunday and Phoenix on Monday — tipoff against the Warriors is set for 6:30 p.m. MST.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *