New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) shoots against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) in the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. (Gerald Herbert, Associated Press)
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SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell knew the effect the shot would have: a step-back 3-pointer late in the shot clock to halt a comeback? Yeah, there’s really only one emotion that brings to an opponent.
“It’s kind of demoralizing,” Mitchell said.
Especially when it happens not once, not twice but three times in the closing minutes. Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic combined to hit three late shot clock 3-pointers down the stretch as the Jazz beat the Pelicans 115-104 Monday in New Orleans. It was Utah’s ninth straight road win.
The hot-shooting finish — the Jazz finished 19 of 39 from 3-point range — was in stark contrast to how things started. Quin Snyder bluntly said the Jazz “were in mud.”
Utah’s offense relies heavily on spacing. If they are properly spaced, they’ll generate 3s, find Rudy Gobert on rolls and their ball handlers can find lanes.
“It’s not like the Showtime Lakers who were running for layups and dunks, but 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.” Snyder said.
When they aren’t running? Well, it looks a lot like Monday’s first quarter.
Players were on top of each other, which made it difficult to create quality possessions. Then, the Jazz ran out of time — either being forced to fire up prayers or to commit shot-clock violations. It was ugly.
“We basically build a wall for ourselves,” Snyder said. “And 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 and get into the paint.”
The Jazz (27-10) shot 39% from the field in the first quarter.
Without Jordan Clarkson’s quick 9 first-quarter points, Utah would have found itself in a major hole. He, and he alone, was able to find some rhythm; and because of that, Utah was only down by 1 when the quarter came to a close.
That actually ended up being a constant in the game — one player stepped up in each quarter to carry the Jazz on offense.
In the first quarter, it was Clarkson. In the second, it was Mike Conley. Bogdanovic took over in the third, and Mitchell carried the Jazz home.
Conley flirted with a triple double and finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Bogdanovic had 21 points, and Mitchell scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. His step-back 3-pointer with 4:36 left in the game halted a 7-0 New Orleans run.
In the third quarter, Snyder went into lawyer mode.
As the officials gathered around the monitor to review an offensive foul call on Gobert, the Jazz coach inched closer to the group to make sure they weren’t missing the key points to the play.
Sure, Gobert’s arm extended a bit into Jose Alvarado, knocking the New Orleans guard down, but did they see what happened before?
Watching the play via the arena’s video board, Snyder barked out that Alvarado wasn’t allowed to hold a roller and that Gobert was entitled to his space, too. Snyder tried everything he could to save Gobert from his fourth foul. The Jazz coach’s motion, though, was denied; the call was upheld.
In normal circumstances, Snyder might not have risked the challenge. Without Hassan Whiteside, who is in concussion protocols, and after seeing how the small-ball Jazz had defended, that felt like a pivotal moment. If Gobert was in the game, the Jazz would win. If not, well, who knows?
The Pelicans immediately went on a 6-2 run to cut the lead to 3. Then the Jazz found something. Conley led an 8-0 run to restore order as Utah held New Orleans scoreless in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter until Gobert — who finished with 10 points and 18 rebounds — could check back in.
The Jazz were outscored by just 1 point when Gobert was on the bench. A vast improvement over recent games when the Jazz have been forced to play small, and more than good enough to get the win.
“That’s what I saw late — just everybody making an effort to be involved in a play, as opposed to guys watching and hoping someone else is gonna get in and ‘Shoot, they got it,'” Snyder said.