Utah is back to its winning ways.
Entering Wednesday night amidst a five-game losing streak, the Jazz played their most complete game in the past week and a half, taking down the LA Clippers 125-112.
"I want to give a lot of credit to the team for sticking with it," head coach Will Hardy said. "They (Clippers) threw a big punch in the second quarter, and our guys came out at halftime with energy. It's been a tough last couple games, and they (Jazz) haven't wavered in their belief and togetherness. … They've just tried to get better."
Here are five things to know following the win:
1.) Hardy Went For The Win
Knowing how vital Wednesday's game against the undermanned Clippers was for Utah's psyche, Hardy went all in with his starters to secure the victory.
Kelly Olynyk and Lauri Markkanen played 36 minutes each, while Jordan Clarkson played a season-high 40 minutes. After a long break in the first half, Collin Sexton finished with 31 minutes.
"We were trying to win," Hardy said. "I thought those guys had good mojo tonight. It was just a feel thing. Nobody necessarily did anything wrong or terrible. It was just I thought that group was playing very well. I thought it was really important that we come out of tonight with a win."
It was a gamble that Hardy was willing to risk, especially since the starters — Jarred Vanderbilt included — found success on both ends of the court. Despite getting into foul trouble (Clarkson) or asking for a breather (Sexton), Hardy told the fellas that they better embrace the timeouts they weren't coming out.
"I was like, 'Coach, I need a quick sub,' and he was just like, 'You're not tired. You're not tired. I'm gonna just walk away, so better catch your breath,'" Sexton said with a smile and a laugh. "I caught my breath, and then he was like, 'Alright, now go pick up full court.'"
Although it was heavy minutes, Hardy prepared his team for these moments after an extensive and physically taxing training camp — and now it's paying off.
2.) Late Run Seals It
It was the exclamation point the Jazz were looking for.
After the Clippers had trimmed Utah's lead to three points early in the fourth quarter — a scenario the Jazz were far too used to — a response was needed. Utah had to find a way to drop the hammer and regain momentum.
That's precisely what happened.
Beginning with a Malik Beasley steal and a Sexton dunk, the Jazz rattled off a 13-2 run — punctuated by a Vanderbilt dunk — to take a 15-point lead with just over seven minutes to play. It was the sort of response Utah has been missing throughout the past week and a half, so to see them fight through the adversity and emerge victorious is a massive step in the right direction.
"A lot of guys participated tonight," Hardy said. "I thought Jarred's (Vanderbilt) energy in the second half, he and Collin (Sexton) really energy sparked us. … I thought JC (Jordan Clarkson) was really good for us, playing through some foul trouble. It was a team win, and I'm really proud of the guys."
3.) Yes, That Was A Zone Defense
According to Hardy, the Jazz have attempted to play zone defense on three different possessions earlier in the season — and all three of them resulted in an open three-pointer. So when the idea of breaking up the game's rhythm with a zone defense was first brought up, he admitted that he wasn't all that keep on the concept.
But at the urging of his assistants — who Hardy gave all the credit to postgame — he trusted what they had to say, and the Jazz employed their new look defense. While there were some growing pains and miscommunication issues, the Jazz surrendered just 28 points on 29 possessions — a massive step forward.
It's hard to know how much zone Utah will play moving forward, but it's nice to gain confidence in a new aspect that can now be employed when needed.
4.) Backcourt Domination
With Mike Conley, Utah's veteran point guard, still out nursing a left leg injury, a lot of pressure has fallen on the shoulders of Clarkson and Sexton. Not only are they required to still score at an impressive rate, but they're also now tasked with running Utah's offense, ensuring the team gets into their proper sets, and knowing when to push the tempo and pull back.
Altogether, it's a massive assignment that is a lot more difficult than the way Conley makes it look. So while there have been growing pains for Clarkson and Sexton in these new roles, they've continued to work at it — and it paid off on Wednesday night.
They combined for 54 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists, by far their best showing as a duo since starting together a week and a half ago.
While Conley's return will be met with smiles and is much-needed, Wednesday proved that he can take his time during rehab because this duo is picking up the slack.
5.) Conley Goes Through Pregame Routine
As mentioned earlier, Conley missed his sixth straight game on Wednesday while dealing with a popliteus strain in his left leg.
However, he did receive some good news on Tuesday when it was announced that he has progressed to running and has incorporated on-court movements with shooting. He will continue daily rehab and treatments and will remain day-to-day.
Wednesday was another positive step forward as Conley went through a regular pregame routine. He was taking shots from all over the court, doing dribbling drills, coming off screens, and attacking the rim.
While it was difficult to determine just how regular his pregame routine was, it was great to see Conley back out on the court, smiling, laughing, and knocking down shots.