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Five Things: Power In The Paint Propels Utah | Utah Jazz

Written by corres2

There aren’t many weaknesses with the Utah Jazz.

With star Donovan Mitchell out for the second straight game with a lower left back strain, there were questions about how Utah would respond with road contests against San Antonio and Portland. 

The defense helped the Jazz earn the win on Monday against the Spurs. And then the offense thrived on Wednesday against the Blazers, leading Utah to a 120-105 victory over Portland.

Here are five things to know following the win:

1.) Bench Blows Out Blazers
Typically when a star player goes down, the scoring off the bench takes a massive hit as one of those players is promoted to the starting lineup. For the Jazz, they don’t have to worry about that happening as they have the luxury of being the deepest team in the league.

With Joe Ingles starting in place of the injured Mitchell, the Jazz dominated the Blazers by outscoring Portland 59-22 in points off the bench.

Rudy Gay, Jordan Clarkson, and Hassan Whiteside provided scoring and playmaking at all three levels on offense.

“Offensively, we moved the ball around, and we just helped each other out defensively,” Gay said. “We just play well together.”

Gay scored 21 points, Clarkson was brilliant all around with 19 points, five assists, four rebounds, and two steals, while Whiteside had his fifth double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Clarkson, Whiteside, Gay, and Ingles combine to average just under 39 points per game, a massive luxury for a team with one of the best starting fives around.

“Our depth played a big role in today’s game. I think everybody played well. We moved the ball and played Jazz basketball,” Whiteside said.

2.) Rudy Gay Turns Back The Clock…
When Utah announced that it was signing Rudy Gay, some in the league questioned the move. After all, Gay was entering his 16th season in the NBA and would begin the season recovering from offseason heel surgery.

Just five years removed from another surgery to repair a torn achilles, some felt as if it was only a matter of time until Gay’s body failed him.

Wednesday night was just another reminder that not only is Gay doing everything he can to stay healthy and adapt to his new role with the Jazz, but he’s also more than capable of turning back the clock.

He dropped a season-high 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field and 3-for-7 from beyond the arc. He again proved how much of a mismatch nightmare he is by using his size to overpower smaller defenders and his quick shot release to beat closing defenders. 

Gay, who missed the first 14 games of the season, has scored in double digits in seven out of 20 games. His versatility is unmatched and gives the Jazz multiple opportunities within the lineup to match up with teams when they go big or small.

“He’s capable of scoring over size in the post, too, because he’s usually bigger than the guy that’s guarding him,” head coach Quin Snyder said of Gay. “He has the ability to rise up and make that little mid-range jump shot.”

3.) … And So Does Mike Conley
With Mitchell sidelined, Utah knew it wouldn’t replace his scoring capabilities with one player. It was going to take a team effort — and that’s precisely what they got with six players scoring at least 15 points on Wednesday night.

But one player did a lot of the intangibles that Mitchell brings to the court every night — and that was 15-year veteran Mike Conley. 

Mitchell’s starting backcourt mate, Conley was phenomenal with 15 points, six assists, and a +15 rating on the night. His ability to direct the offense helped the Jazz achieve a 125.0 offensive rating, an impressive showing when missing Mitchell’s 25.1 points per game.

More than just his offense though, Conley did an excellent job of chasing around Portland star Damian Lillard all night and making it tough on him. Although Lillard finished with 32 points, Conley helped limit him to 43% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc. 

It’s another luxury for Utah to know that it still has a fellow all-star in the backcourt capable of running the offense and defense with extreme efficiency when Mitchell is gone. 

4.) Power In The Paint
Entering this season, there was a lot of talk about how the Jazz would handle smaller and quicker lineups. Would Rudy Gobert take advantage of his size down low, or would Gay have to take over as a small-ball center?

While Snyder has experimented with Gay as the small-ball center, he elected to go the other direction on Wednesday night when Portland went small. Gobert continued his onslaught this season with his 28th double-double when he finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds, adding two blocks for good measure. 

With Whiteside adding his double-double and Gay doing a lot of damage in the paint as well, the Jazz completely battered the Blazers under the rim. Utah outscored Portland 74-30 in the paint, showcasing its ability to play bully ball when needed.

The biggest reason for the domination was the physicality both Gobert and Whiteside could play with. Using their size and strength, they established themselves deep in the post, and the guards did a good job of rewarding them for their positioning. 

“If they fight for the rim, and they get deep, I think their size really becomes a factor, and it’s just much easier to find an angle to pass the ball to them,” Snyder said. “So I think we’re doing a better job, them fighting for the rim.”

5.) Jazz Never Done Getting Better
In many respects, Wednesday’s showing was full of dominant stats. 

Utah led wire-to-wire over Portland. Six players score 15 points or more. The Jazz outscored the Blazers by 37 in points off the bench and 36 in points in the paint. And all of this came without the services of Mitchell.

But when talking postgame about his team’s performance, Snyder didn’t talk about the stats that led to Utah’s eighth straight road victory. Instead, he spent the beginning of his press conference lamenting about his disappointment in their inability to put the game away early.

“I was disappointed throughout the first three quarters,” Snyder stated. “I thought we’d build the lead, and then we let up a little bit. We didn’t extend it.”

Snyder had good reason to feel upset as the Jazz have had some issues putting teams away in the past. They always seem to jump out to a big lead but sometimes relax a little bit, and that double-digit lead seems to come back to single digits in the blink of an eye. 

“I think there’s a few times when we are up 10, and when you are up 10, it can go either way,” Gobert said. “You can either get up 15-20, or you can let them come back and cut the lead to 5, and then it’s a ball game.”

While that didn’t necessarily happen on Wednesday with the Jazz maintaining a double-digit advantage for the entire final 12 minutes, it was a game in which Snyder would’ve loved to have rested his starters a little more.

Regardless, a win is a win, and it’s something that Snyder and the Jazz are proud of — but there’s always a lesson to be learned.

“We just got to keep getting better,” Gobert said.

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