This is a team that really knows how to keep you on your toes. It’s also a very streaky team. Nearly all of the Utah Jazz’s wins and losses this season have come in bunches. We have experienced the highest of highs (ie. the Bucks and Houston buzzerbeaters), and the lowest of lows (no example necessary). But that is not our team identity. Our mantra for the past few years has been to maintain an attitude of “not too high, not too low”. This game feels like our players have settled into this mantra and are beginning to rely on one another in a way that has been lacking up to this point in the season.
Rational Reaction #1 - Conley really did need some time to “click”
I do not think many (if any) of us doubted Mike Conley’s skills as a player. It was always about fit. The saying, “There is only one ball”, seemed to fit our team all too well. During the offseason we added a handful of ball-dominant high USG% players, who were all skilled scorers, and told Coach Snyder to make it fit together. Well after many sleepless nights, and nearly three-fourths into the season, it looks like he has found a balance that makes the best use of our best players.
If you follow me on Twitter, you likely know that I have been one of the bigger doubters of Conley’s fit on this team. I am not a fan of two smaller guards playing together. And for one reason or another, it felt as though Donovan Mitchell was trying to shoulder too much of the burden when he would play with the second unit. With the updated rotations, I am a big fan of switching Conley and Donovan’s roles. Quin is allowing Donovan to shine when he plays with the starters, and Conley to shine when he can be the ball-dominant floor general with the secondary unit. Of course there will still be minutes together, but there is no longer a glaring weakness. Conley has turned from a net wash or net negative into a consistent net positive, where he can show his star skills even on a team with so much talent and ballhandling capabilities.
Rational Reaction #2 - The recent play is “real”
The media always tends to hype up the Jazz after a win. I would listen to the radio and groan after many of the takes given, because the hosts were acting as if we had proven ourselves contenders again simply by beating the Cavaliers and Knicks. Those were important wins that allowed us to take a step back and re-evaluate our identity and each player’s role on this team. But tonight is the night we came out and beat a good team again. And we did it with defense. Boston may have been missing a couple of key players, but the Jazz were able to play some solid defense in stretches and play like a team that is not content with the current pecking order in the league.
The better we fare in our games against +.500 teams in this final stretch of the season, the more confidence and momentum we can take into April.
Overreaction - The Jazz starters still need a bit of work
With Rudy, Donovan and Bojan all earning a +/- of -20 tonight, it is easy to say that we were bailed out by the bench. This will happen on occasion, and it is not the end of the world. BUT, this team is built on the backs of our stars. More often than not, an 11-point game on 20% shooting from the field for Donovan, paired with a 9/7reb/3blk game from Rudy, and sprinkling in some poor shooting from Bogey would be the perfect recipe for a loss. Conley can’t bail out all three of them on a nightly basis. We need them to play well against the better teams in this league, especially those +.500 teams who have the capability to play 5-out.
I may be nitpicking here, but it is an overreaction, after all.
Underreaction - JOE. INGLES.
Jinglin Joe makes former Jazzman Andrei Kirilenko proud. With a stat line of 9 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals, all Joe needed were a couple of blocks to put up a signature AK night. While they are obviously not identical players, Joe does remind me of an older Kirilenko, with an improved 3pt jumper. When Joe is rolling, he makes everybody on the court better. He is skilled in so many different ways, you can no longer simply deny one thing and take away half of his game plan. Because of his flexibility, this opens up options for teammates.
After a little bit of a rough shooting stretch, it looks as though Joe has course corrected. He hit 3/6 of his threes, which really helps open the floor for the offense.
Overall, tonight was a thrilling start to the final chapter of the 2019-20 NBA regular season. And hopefully it is but a prelude to Utah’s potential in the postseason.