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SALT LAKE CITY — Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego knew what he would have liked to do to guard Utah's currently historic offensive attack.
"You take away 3s, if you can just play the pick and roll, two on two," Borrego said before Monday's game. "You've got to have personnel that can get through pick and roll and square the ball up and play back at the rim."
It sounds simple enough, but then came the sobering admission: "I'm not sure that's been our strength."
It sure wasn't on Monday in Utah's 112-102 win over Charlotte at Vivint Arena. The Hornets played a lot of zone against the Jazz, and then threw some switches and drop-big looks, too. None of it was too effective.
The Jazz broke the paint against the zone, Rudy Gobert punished the switches and the Jazz did what they always have against drop big; but the game wasn't the runaway blowout it looked to be after the Jazz outscored the Hornets by 19 in the first quarter.
There was a fourth tactic Borrego probably didn't count on: Utah missing a lot of wide open shots.
It's pretty unusual for a team to shoot 35% from the field and 30% from the 3-point line and think, "Yeah, we played pretty good." That was the case for the Jazz (21-9) Monday.
Good ball movement led to consistently good shots. Open layups, floaters, open corner 3s, everything the Jazz wanted, they got; they just couldn't make much.
"A lot of the shots we missed were really clean and good 3s," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "They started to really stay home on shooters — we were able to get to the rim."
They played good basketball and shot poorly; that was the story against Charlotte. It's also how the Hornets found themselves in the game at all — let alone leading by 1 point — in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.
With 3:30 left in the game, Charlotte held a 92-91 lead; Utah, which led by 22 points in the first half, had surrendered a 20-2 run. Terry Rozier got going and hit contested shots to bring the Hornets all the way back into the game.
"We were getting really good looks," Snyder said. "We were getting good looks and missing, and they were making some shots, particularly Rozier hit some shots, and we turned the ball over."
Snyder called a quick timeout to stable the forces; and with the previous two games — in which the Jazz blew double-digit leads — still fresh in the team's collective memory, nothing really needed to be said. The timeout was a chance for the team to regroup, refocus and continue to trust their style of play.
When the Hornets took the short-lived lead, Utah hit just 32% from the field and 26% from the 3-point line, but the Jazz didn't deviate from how they played.
On back-to-back possessions, Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley found Bojan Bogdanovic for open 3-pointers — the Jazz were 13 of 50 from deep before those shots — and Bogdanovic shot 100% on those two looks. The back-to-back 3-pointers helped kickstart a 20-8 Utah run that allowed the Jazz to fend off a charging Hornets team.
Bogdanovic finished with 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting and Gobert had 23 points and 21 rebounds in the win. Gobert also went 15 of 16 from the free throw line — the 15 made free throws were a career high.
The late Bogdanovic 3-pointers offered a sigh of relief to the Jazz; it was a game that shouldn't have been close.
The Jazz have given up double-digit leads a number of times this season; in fact, it's a trend at this point. In their two losses over the weekend to the San Antonio Spurs and Washington Wizards, they held big leads and lost each game. It's gotten to the point where Bogdanovic said it was good for the Jazz to have won a close one after surrendering such a lead.
But Monday was different. Outside of an out-of-sync second quarter, the Jazz played well — really well. If they had shot close to their average — and with the looks they got, it probably would have been expected for them to shoot ever higher — it would have been a blowout. But missed shots don't necessarily mean a team has played bad.
Utah held the No. 2 offense in the league to an offensive rating of 98.1 and were able to survive an awful shooting night with a win.
"I don't think you can dictate performance off of made shots," said Mitchell, who was 7 of 20 from the field for 21 points.
The Jazz rebounded from a pair of tough losses with a well-played game — you just have to ignore the numbers a bit.