The Utah Jazz are back to their winning ways. Against the Phoenix Suns, the Jazz squeaked out a bounce-back victory with a final score of 133-134.
After back-to-back games highlighting low levels of energy, focus, and execution, the Jazz came out with no holds barred against the Suns. In the first quarter alone, Utah scored a whopping 42 points on the backs of hot shooing from both Lauri Markkanen and Malik Beasley. For the night, the Jazz shot a blistering 51.6% from three and 56.0% from the field.
For the most part, Utah actually got plethora of open looks. While I think it’s fair to say that the Jazz have gotten a decent amount of positive random variance (i.e., their great 3pt shooting, poor opponent 3pt shooting, lucky loose balls, other wacky basketball moments), they also do a fantastic job of generating good shots for themselves.
Take Markkanen, for instance. He ended the night with a career-high 38 points on 15-18 (!) shooting. While Markkanen had his fair share of tough shots tonight (including an improbable fade-away jumper to seal the game with thirty seconds left), he also had an abundance of open layups and dunks courtesy of great team ball movement. The Jazz endlessly cut, screen away, swing the ball, and look for the open man. When clicking, it's beautiful to watch.
Utah’s supporting cast showed out as well. Malik Beasley posted a season-high 27 points on 7-13 shooting from the field, Mike Conley ran the show with 10 assists, Jordan Clarkson chipped in 20 points, and Jared Vanderbilt continued to flirt with breaking the Jazz’s 14 year triple-double drought.
For the Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker showed why he should likely get some more respect in the MVP ladder. He finished the night with 49 points, 8 rebounds, and 10 assists on 16-31 shooting from the field. While the Jazz play solid team defense, their inability to slow down individual scorers has reared its ugly head once again. For the second time in three games, the Jazz have given up nearly fifty points to an individual player. While this may speak more on those players’ personal talent, it also begs a question: do the Jazz, at this point, have any defensive stoppers on the roster? Jared Vanderbilt? Possibly. While a versatile defender, he’s too slow to guard the likes of Booker and too small to defend players like Embiid. Talen Horton-Tucker, Lauri Markkanen, and Malik Beasley all have significant holes in portions of their defensive game, so not them either. Don’t get me wrong, Utah plays with great energy and effort on this end (and play far, far better defense than last year’s roster), but on an individual level, they lack defensive talent. It’s something to lookout for moving forward.
Nonetheless, Utah was able to soften the blows from Booker’s supporting cast enough to hold out a win. While Deandre Ayton ended the night with 17 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 blocks, the Suns failed to make enough open looks at the end of the fourth quarter to steal the game away from Utah.
This Utah team continues to surprise. With the Jazz holding no expectations of success, the stakes of fandom this season are nearly nothing. Enjoy watching silly, energetic, and fun basketball for as long as it lasts.