After entering Tuesday night on the second end of a back-to-back against a team they struggled against earlier in the season — and not to mention the physical and brutal defeats in the two games prior — it wouldn’t have been surprising if Utah struggled.
The Jazz did the opposite.
Utah came out focused and energized, using multiple runs throughout and a great defensive effort in the second half to take down Detroit 126-111.
“That’s a great team win on the second night of a back-to-back. … A lot of different guys contributed,” head coach Will Hardy said postgame. “It was a good bounce back for us after two rough games. I thought that game looked and felt a lot more like the team you guys have gotten to know so far this year. … I thought that our competitiveness really showed through.”
Here are five things to know following the win:
1.) Markkanen Makes His Case
After another hot start in the opening 12 minutes, Lauri Markkanen was downright dominant all game long. He tied his career-high with 38 points on 13-for-20 from the floor and 9-of-13 from beyond the arc, adding five rebounds. His nine three-pointers made was a career-high.
After being aggressive and getting to the free throw line last night against Cleveland, Markkanen showed that he’s just as good in the midrange and from deep. His most impressive moment came when he drilled a stepback three-pointer on one possession and followed that up with an impressive shot fake that allowed him to soar in for a dunk on the following possession.
“I always give credit to my teammates,” Markkanen said. “I think all of them were catch-and-shoot threes, so they did a good job of finding me, getting me open with good screens. So it was easy because I just had to step in and knock them down. … Happy to see a couple go through the hoop.”
2.) Conley Control
It’s safe to say that Mike Conley hasn’t been up to his usual standards when shooting the ball. A splendid sharpshooter from beyond the arc, he has struggled since his return from injury.
But by no means does that signal that the 16-year veteran point guard can’t take complete control of a game. All someone had to do was watch the third quarter to realize his influence on Utah’s offense.
With Conley at the helm, the Jazz broke the game open by dropping 34 points in the quarter. When the Pistons started to make a push, Conley slowed things down and executed Utah’s offense to perfection.
He generated many open looks for his teammates, ensuring they never got sped up in the process. He finished with four points, three assists, and a +9 rating in the quarter.
While his seven points and seven assists may not seem like an impressive stat line, it was more about how he controlled the game and became the backbone the Jazz needed when it got close.
3.) No Zone, No More
Throughout the season, Hardy has often gone to a zone defense to break up the rhythm of the opposing team. With Utah struggling in the second quarter on Tuesday night, he did the same thing — going to a zone defense with the idea of forcing the Pistons into different actions on offense.
Unfortunately, behind the play of rookie point guard Jaden Ivey, Detroit was undeterred and their offensive success continued after dropping 36 points in the second quarter.
Hardy went into the locker room at the break and asked his team whether or not they should stay with the zone or go back to man. The answer was swift and resounding — man defense it was. The Jazz responded by limiting the Pistons to 25 points in the third and breaking the game open.
“The team made a great adjustment by telling me not to do any more zone in the second half,” he said. “They committed to playing man-to-man defense at a very high level, and I think that was a big part of the reason why we were able to win the game. … I think that’s great for them to take ownership of what they’re most comfortable in.”
4.) Vando Dominates On Both Ends
Before Markkanen proved his All-Star candidacy over the past few weeks, Jarred Vanderbilt clamored for the 7-footer from Finland to be voted into the game.
While he may not be playing in the game himself, Vanderbilt was sensational on Tuesday night. He tied his season-high with 18 points, adding 13 rebounds and six assists as he was arguably Utah’s most important player on the court.
He got things started with a corner three-pointer, looking much more comfortable on those catch-and-shoot opportunities as he finished 2-for-4 from deep. While his offense was excellent, his defense and rebounding remain his best assets, as he completely changed the game on that end of the court.
“I thought Vando sparked us with his energy. ... He moved the ball great tonight,” Hardy said.
5.) Markkanen Makes His Case | Part II
The big news entering Tuesday night was that NBA All-Star voting had officially opened that morning — and Markkanen reminded everyone that he deserves to be playing at the February showcase.
He’s emerged as Utah’s No. 1 option and has proven that he belongs in the discussion as NBA All-Star, among other potential accolades.
Markkanen is in the midst of a career year under Hardy, averaging career-highs of 22.8 points on 53.4% shooting from the field and 43.8% from three-point territory. He’s also putting up 8.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, all while elevating his play on the defensive end of the court.
First, Vanderbilt was preaching for Markkanen to play in the All-Star game, and now Jazz owner Ryan Smith has gotten in on the action. At this point… it’s hard to imagine Markkanen not being a part of the February showcase.