DETROIT — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder admits that there are about “five to 10” turnarounds over the course of the season. Teams go through ups, they go through downs; it’s the nature of an 82-game marathon.
A little less than two weeks ago, the Jazz were at their lowest of lows. A young Suns team came to Salt Lake and embarrassed the Jazz. Phoenix made Utah look bad — plain and simple. Fans were growing restless and players didn’t seem to have answers. That’s what happens during a four-game skid — especially when it all comes at home.
But on Saturday in Detroit, players laughed and joked as they dressed following a 111-105 win over the Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. That win meant five in a row. It meant the Jazz had swept a four-game road swing. And, more importantly — for Snyder at least — Utah has won the right way.
“No matter how a team plays against you, you may have nights that you don’t win — but it’s the way that you don’t win,” Snyder said. “For our guys, it’s collectively focusing on things that we can control.”
And for Snyder, that's always been defense.
The Jazz held the Piston to just 39 first-half points as they built up a 22-point advantage in the second quarter. Later, Detroit had just 81 points with six minutes remaining. The Pistons kept fighting, coming back and tying the game early in the fourth and then cutting it to a one-possession game in the final minute. But for the most part, Utah’s defense held up.
“It starts with our mind, where we want to put our focus on,” said Rudy Gobert, who had 10 points and 12 rebounds and hit two clutch free throws down the stretch. “The last four games, I think the focus has been on the defensive end. We have stretches where we lost that, but they were short stretches, like tonight where they made their run in the fourth early. I think that's the mindset that we need.”
It’s that mindset that allowed Utah to go from losing four straight at home to winning four straight on the road. There’s an increased focus right now — something that being on a long road trip may have helped.
“We had a couple meetings between us,” Bojan Bogdanovic said. “Players are getting dinner together. You could say that we were more focused right now than the last couple games.”
It’s like a switch has been flipped for the Jazz. Just like it did Saturday in Detroit in the fourth.
WIth 10:38 left in the game, the Pistons' Bruce Brown tied the game with a layup.
With that, what was once a 22-point Utah lead was gone. And a dream ending to a four-game road trip looked like it might be going with it.
Playing the final game of a weeklong trip and the second game of a back-to-back, the Jazz’s legs looked spent. Good thing Utah is a far superior team to the Pistons. And once Detroit tied it all up at 79-79, it was like the Jazz remembered that.
Utah answered with an 18-2 run to pull away again. The Jazz made shots, sure, but, more importantly to them, they didn’t let Detroit score. For a five-minute stretch, Utah allowed just 2 points.
“I just think it’s just effort right now,” said Mike Conley who had 12 points and four assists on Saturday. “We are just picking up the ball a little earlier, we are being a little more aggressive on the screens. I think everybody is just feeding off each other's energy. When we are playing that hard and aggressive and communicating while doing it, we can beat some really good teams. And have some good stretches of basketball. We are learning that — that we can be that good.”
The Pistons aren’t one of those good teams. There’s a reason why the Jazz built a 22-point lead in the first half and had the Detroit fan base trying to start the wave. Without a heroic performance by Christian Wood, who had 30 points and 11 rebounds, and was out during Utah’s fourth-quarter run where the Jazz pulled away again, they likely would have made easy work of the Pistons.
But it may not be the worst thing that this team had to hold off a team on tired legs.
“For us to respond the way we did was a good thing,” Snyder said.
Bogdanovic scored 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting and Donovan Mitchell had 25 points and five rebounds to lead Utah, bouncing back from their subpar offensive nights on Friday against the Celtics. But those numbers weren’t important to them. One night, it could be that pair doing the scoring, the next it could be Conley or Gobert or Clarkson or anyone else. The Jazz have enough weapons; they want to continue to show they have enough defense.
“Ultimately, you can’t get too high or too low through anything,” Conley said. “You have to be consistent on your work ethic and how you approach every day. You can’t worry about the result all the time. Right now, we can’t be worried about us winning four or five in a row, it’s about the next time, the next practice, whatever it may be, you just have to lock in on the little things. That allows us to get out of a five-game losing streak and get back on track and hopefully allows us to stay on track.”