SALT LAKE CITY — In the NBA bubble, the Utah Jazz have been waiting for their 3-point rhythm to kick back in, yearning for the ball movement and fluidity that served them so well throughout the season.
And they’ve been encouraging Joe Ingles to step up and be more aggressive.
On Wednesday they finally found what they were looking for.
In a 124-115 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Jazz evened their bubble record to 2-2 and felt quite a bit of relief shooting 40% from deep after going a combined 28 of 108 (25.9%) from the 3-point line through their first three seeding games.
“The way the season has gone, with such a long time off, we can’t forget we were the highest percentage catch-and-shoot team in the league for 60 games,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I don’t think our guys have forgotten that. They just need to take them and keep taking them.”
Without Bojan Bogdanovic in the lineup, the Jazz were all too aware that his shooting and scoring volume were going to have to be made up somewhere. As the first few games played out in Florida, it became clear that Ingles would have to step up to the plate and take on a larger share of the responsibility than he had been.
Ingles took 11 threes in Wednesday’s victory over the Grizzlies, equaling his total 3-point attempts from the first three games combined. He made good on six of those shots en route to a game-high 25 points to go with five assists and four rebounds.
After knocking down consecutive treys in the fourth quarter, Ingles even threw up a heat check shot from deep with two defenders in his face, a far cry from his recent outings in which he passed up open looks from the arc.
“Everyone’s probably passed up a bit and not been, not aggressive, but probably not taking advantage of some opportunities,” he said after the game. “Obviously picking my spots and my time, it’s a part of it with the Bojan thing, finding when I can be aggressive.”
“Joe knows what he means to our team and we tell him all the time we want him to be aggressive.” — Jazz guard Mike Conley
Ingles made a point of saying that he refuses to force things on the court and that he isn’t concerned about himself and his production. And while that’s the right attitude for any teammate to have, in order for the Jazz to be successful, the version of Ingles that showed up against the Grizzlies is exactly what the team needs. He has to be aggressive when the ball is in his hands, he has to look for openings in the pick and roll, and he has to take shots at a higher volume than the three or four per game that he’s become accustomed to.
“Joe knows what he means to our team and we tell him all the time we want him to be aggressive,” guard Mike Conley said. “We want him to shoot the open shot, to make plays, because he’s one of our better playmakers out there. ... We’ve just got to continue to give him opportunities, continue to look at him at different points of the game and say, ‘Hey, Joe it’s on you, you got it,’ and let him go, because he’s a big piece, especially with Bojan being out.”
While complimentary of Ingles’ playmaking skills, Conley also had a productive outing against his former team finishing with 23 points, seven assists, five rebounds and a steal.
That two of the team’s better ball handlers and playmakers were patient and aggressive was directly tied to the win and the Jazz moving the ball with more ease than we’ve seen through the last three games. Part of that has to do with making better decisions, having confidence, trusting teammates and trusting the play, and another part is that Conley is finally feeling at home with the Jazz.
“Man, really, I’m just starting to really have fun with it,” he said Wednesday. “I know exactly what’s asked of me and I think it’s fairly clear. I’ve had this whole year to learn. I’ve had time off to adjust and prepare myself and now just go out there and play the game I’ve always played and do what I can for the team, just having a good time doing it. I really do enjoy being out there and just getting back to the things I normally do.”
The game against the Grizzlies was far from perfect. There were inconsistencies in momentum, trouble with turnovers, some misguided early fouls, and still yet some open looks that were passed up.
It certainly didn’t help the Grizzlies’ cause that on Tuesday the team announced starting forward Jaren Jackson Jr. had suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee and would not return to play this season.
Even with the news of Jackson’s injury and coming into the game against the Jazz 0-3 in the bubble, the Grizzlies put up a fight and the Jazz were able to withstand their own missteps and come out on top, largely thanks to Ingles and Conley.
The next test for the Jazz comes on Friday and Saturday in a back-to-back set against the San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets, respectively.