SALT LAKE CITY — Due to lengthy injury reports, there likely wasn’t gonna be a lot to take away from Tuesday’s game at Vivint Arena.
The Utah Jazz were without Jordan Clarkson (ankle), Joe Ingles (left knee soreness) and Royce O’Neale (rest).
The Oklahoma City Thunder, meanwhile, were missing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Aleksej Pokusevski, among others.
The best thing fans really could have hoped for then was some fun. At least they got that in Utah’s 106-96 victory over the Thunder.
They got it with an absurd first quarter when OKC’s Lu Dort, who averaged 12 points heading into the game, finished with 18 points as the Thunder jumped out to a 17-point lead.
The Jazz’s answer to Dort’s hot shooting: Georges Niang. That’s a bit different. Niang vs. Dort — just what everyone came to see.
“Obviously, this is my first start of this year but you gotta have the confidence to believe that you can start in the NBA and I do,” said Niang, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds. “So I didn’t take it as anything new. I treated this game just like any other. And I just wanted to go out there and do what I do on a daily basis. I think when people try to do stuff that they’re not capable of, that’s when bad stuff happens.”
Things may have started bad for the Jazz, but it turned around quickly. The 17-point lead was erased by the middle of the second quarter and the Jazz blew open the game by starting the second half on a 12-0 run.
“We had to make it harder on them,” Jazz coach Quin Sndyer said. “There’s a number of things that they were doing well but we really weren’t providing enough resistance defensively.”
Niang said bad stuff happens when players try to do stuff they aren’t capable of — like score on Rudy Gobert. The Thunder kept attacking Gobert at the rim and he kept swatting them away. Gobert had four of his seven blocks in the third quarter as the Jazz raced out to a huge lead.
Gobert, who finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds, was so aggressive in the quarter that he may have been a little too forceful when he helped Bojan Bogdanovic up after he took a fall. Bogdanovic flinched as Gobert helped him up by his surgically repaired wrist.
After the game, Bogdanovic said it hurt for a few moments and then went away. He shook off the discomfort to finish with 23 points and seven rebounds.
Donovan Mitchell added 22 points on 16 shots, and Mike Conley scored 15 points and 14 assists in the win.
But because of the lengthy injury report, Tuesday’s game was less about the usual suspects — Mitchell, Conley, Gobert — and more about the deep bench that got a chance at significant playing time.
Jarrell Brantley was the best of that bunch, scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, while adding four rebounds. Matt Thomas struggled in an extended role, going 2-for-10 from the field for 5 points. Ersan Ilysasova, in his first meaningful action as a Jazzman, was 0-for-3.
Tuesday’s game was Utah’s fifth in seven days — a stretch that had clearly gotten to the team. As Snyder prepared to play Portland last week, he turned on the game film from Utah’s first game of the season against the Blazers. He saw just a bit of a difference in energy.
“We were shot out of a cannon,” Snyder said. “There’s just an extra gear.”
He conceded that getting that type of spark back this late in the regular season likely won’t happen just by resting a single player — but the rest can add up for when things really start to matter come playoff time.
“Royce in particular, I think he’s got the most minutes of anybody in the league guarding the opponent’s best player,” Snyder said. “And not just with Royce, but with your entire team, I think in order to get better you have to be as fresh as you can be. As a coach and as a team, you’re evaluating certain things, and you get a better picture of where you are when you’re able to play on a certain level.”
The Jazz will now have a much-needed two days off. Maybe that will help them get back to that higher level.