Utah Jazz bench continues to quiet the criticism

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SALT LAKE CITY — Georges Niang simply wanted to defend himself.

Last week, in a string of now-deleted tweets, he fired back at some online criticism about him, his teammates and his team.

Why did he do it?

He had heard and read the slander being directed toward the Utah bench unit all season, and he felt it was time he stood up for himself.

Last week, he responded online. On Thursday, he responded on the court.

Niang had his best game of the season during Utah’s 102-98 win in Chicago. He scored 11 points, was 3 of 5 from 3-point range, and finished with a team-high plus-19. Sure, plus/minus is far from a perfect stat and features a lot of noise, but, still, plus-19 is nothing to ignore during a four-point win.

“Georges played out of his mind,” Donovan Mitchell said.

It was the kind of performance that Utah Jazz executives were hoping for — maybe even expecting — when they opted to waive Jeff Green. That move meant more time for Niang as a stretch four. Against the Bulls, he showed how valuable he could be in that role.

“Getting Georges more minutes at the four and see where that helps with the bench production,” Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said following the moves. “And whatever Quin (Snyder) chooses to mix and match with those rotations and outlook so it'll be a little bit of an exploratory period here of what works.”

Since the roster moves, Niang has shot 8 of 14 from 3-point range.

His first 3 on Thursday gave the Jazz their first lead of the game after a terribly slow start. He then hit back-to-back triples in the third quarter to help the Jazz get some separation. But it was more than just the made shots. Niang is now shooting nearly 42% from deep this season. That means spacing for everyone else.

Niang wasn’t the only one to have a big game off the bench. Jordan Clarkson scored 12 points, continuing to look like the player the Jazz hoped he would be. He is now averaging 16.0 points on 47% shooting in his first four games with Utah, providing a much-needed spark.

Tony Bradley has taken hold of the backup center minutes, finishing with 6 points and seven rebounds on Thursday. And Emmanuel Mudiay had 7 points, two assists and two steals.

Utah’s bench outscored Chicago’s 36-23, and that type of production was noticed by the starters.

“Georges coming in and doing his thing,” Mitchell said. “Tony coming in — I looked and he had like 6 points, but it didn’t feel like 6. It was a crucial 6.”

In a 4-point game, everything seems a little more crucial. And having a bench that can make those types of plays is critical for a team with as high as aspirations as the Jazz have.

“Georges Niang hit some big shots and did a terrific job. … We had a lot of lifts from different guys,” Snyder said. “Emmanuel came in and gave us some really good minutes. Tony Bradley as well. He was able to rebound the ball and finish on the other end. Jordan, if you ask him, he probably didn’t play his best game, but being aggressive from 3 and knocking down a few 3s. Everybody did something at a given time to help us win the game.”

That hasn’t often been the case with the Jazz bench this season. But that might just be changing.

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