Sarah Todd covers the NBA and Utah Jazz for the Deseret News.
The Utah Jazz started off 2022 with a loss at Vivint Arena Saturday night. The Jazz dropped the first game of the new year 123-116 to the Golden State Warriors in a highly competitive game between two Western Conference powerhouses.
This game was easily the Jazz’s biggest test of the 2021-22 season to this point, and I think that they acquitted themselves very well. Yes, they lost the game, but they lost in a contest that came down to the wire and went back-and-forth all night long. There are things to clean up and things to be proud of, but that’s what’s good about playing a team like this on Jan. 1 and being able to change some stuff up and try to improve. This was probably the game when the Jazz had to make the most changes and differentiate their offense more than any other this season, and they did a good job of that. “At half time we were already making some adjustments on certain playsthey were running and how to guard stuff in certain situations. And even when we were adjusting, they would have another adjustment to our adjustment. It was a chess match through and through and that’s what you get with the the best teams.” —Mike Conley
Mike Conley is somehow, at 34 years old, as surprisingly good at basketball as ever, and he’s incredibly critical to the success of the Jazz. His defense, his vision, his ability to create space and to pace the game are all things that the Jazz are missing when he is not on the floor. Did I mention his defense? Conley is probably the Jazz’s most valuable perimeter defender at this point, and he’s that without being as lengthy and rangy as some of the Jazz’s other defenders.
There’s probably a lot to be said about the Jazz struggling to find some offensive stuff that worked in the first half and having some really rough defensive stretches, but I think there’s more to be said about the fact that even when they were struggling to hit shots, they were getting to the line and that they kept kind of switching things up until they found some stuff that worked. On the defensive side, they settled into the game and gave the Warriors some serious fits throughout the second half. If you’re going to argue that the Jazz didn’t play at a high level throughout the entire game, there would be some weight to that argument, but you would also have to say the same thing about the Warriors, who couldn’t get Stephen Curry into any kind of solid rhythm and were giving the Jazz a ton of wide open looks. Nobody ever plays a perfect game, but this was a good game.
Having players like Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson who can both score 20-plus in the same game and are pretty smart guys when it comes to creating other opportunities is just such a luxury for the Jazz.
Donovan Mitchell and Clarkson were getting blitzed like crazy and the Warriors were trapping Clarkson really high up. That caused problems early on when the Jazz were trying to swing the ball but getting stopped. Later on, both Mitchell and Clarkson were relentless in beating the Warriors off the dribble and cutting them off from being able to defend up high. Just some really smart maneuvering from a couple of really smart players.
Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Bogdanovic and Clarkson each finished the night with 20 points apiece.
Stephen Curry remains very good at basketball. Even when he’s not shooting the ball, which he is the best in the world at, he’s incredible at getting off the ball and using motion to create space even without the ball in his hands.
A few defensive gambles and broken defensive possessions by the Jazz are the things that stand out for me as the kind of moments they’d probably like to go back on and have a do over. Those are tough in the moment, but they are really valuable once they’re on film and you can go back to look at them if you ever need to for playoff purposes. “We didn’t play our best, but you can look at that and we can take a lot of things from this —closing, execution, turnovers, defensive lapses. Those are the things we can take away from game like this. Luckily, it’s early. We’ve just got to come back ready.” —Donovan Mitchell
When a player is running in transition and has the ball in their hands, trailed by defenders, the Jazz have to do a better job of calling out “wolf” to their teammates. This has happened a few times over the last few games and it just feels like such an easily avoidable turnover situation that could end in points.
Mitchell came down after a pull-up 3-pointer in the first half and landed on Curry’s foot and limped away from the play. He stayed in the game and walked it off, so no real harm done, but it’s always worth making a note of when the team’s All-Star guard has any sort of tweak.
The Warriors were playing without Draymond Green and Klay Thompson (among others), and when they have both of those guys back, they’ll certainly be better than they were on Saturday. The Jazz were without Hassan Whiteside, which forced them to play small-ball. Never thought I’d be saying that Whiteside makes a huge difference for the Jazz, but he really does. The Jazz’s small-ball defense is just not where it needs to be. So this wasn’t really the full-squad matchup that you’d like to see, but those opportunities are coming in the second half of the season. “Obviously it’s different without having a traditional big like Hassan or Rudy back there because we base our defense basically solely on forcing everybody to our big. So when that happens, we kind of have to retrain our minds and readjust.” —Mike Conley
The Jazz were given a delay of game warning early in the game that was just outrageous. It came on an after-the-whistle shot, which literally every team does all the time. It’s an extremely weak call. That call then came to bite them in the end when, as they were trying to mount a final rally, they were called for a delay of game technical foul. I hate ticky-tack stuff.