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SALT LAKE CITY — Quin Snyder had some advice for his short-handed team: "The most important thing is for them not to overthink the situation," he said ahead of Friday's game in Toronto.
What was the situation?
The Jazz were without Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O'Neale, Jordan Clarkson, Rudy Gay and Joe Ingles. Put it another way, the Jazz were missing all but one player from their main rotation.
The ending, then, was predictable, a 122-108 Toronto win. The beginning, though, was less so.
Malik Fitts let the ball bounce before grabbing it and heaving it from behind center court. As the buzzer sounded, the ball banked in. That put an end to a dream first quarter from the replacement Jazz.
Eric Paschall had 17 points in the first quarter and Utah put up 40 points to take a 15-point early lead.
It was the most points the Jazz have scored in a first quarter the entire season. Just what you'd expect from a starting lineup of Paschall, Trent Forrest, Jared Butler, Elijah Highes and Hassan Whiteside — or not.
The Jazz even kept momentum rolling into the second quarter and had a 13-point advantage entering halftime.
The dream was alive: a team full of G League stalwarts and new signees (Danuel House Jr. had just one shootaround with the team and scored 8 points in the first half), were beating a near-full strength Raptors team.
"The way we started the game, as competitive as we were, we were spaced, we played the way we wanted to play with the ball moving," Snyder said before adding: "I was really pleased and proud of the guys that were out there tonight and how they competed."
The competitive juices turned on for the Raptors after halftime, though. Or, at least, Fred Vanleet remembered he was the best player on the court.
The Toronto point guard had enough of the shenanigans. He wasn't about to let a team full of end-of-bench players pull the upset. In the third, VanVleet had one of the most dominating quarters a player can have.
He had 24 points, three assists and three rebounds, while shooting 8 of 8 from the field, 3 of 3 from the 3-point line, and 5 of 5 from the free-throw line in the quarter. He went on his own 13-0 run in the quarter to erase what had been a 12-point lead.
Hughes, who scored 15 of his 26 points in the second half, tried to help the Jazz keep pace, but it wasn't near enough. Utah's defense cracked and could never recover.
The Raptors outscored the Jazz 45-30 in the third quarter and won the second half by 27 points. VanVleet finished with 37 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds to record his first triple-double of his career.
Paschall finished with 29 points to lead the Jazz. Butler added 17 points and four assists, while House, who was nursing a dislocated finger, finished with 13 points, four rebounds and four assists in his Utah debut.
Still, there were more than enough good moments for there to be some good feelings after the game.
"Obviously, we didn't come out with the win, which I wanted really badly," said Butler, who made his first career start. "But I think it's a long game, long season, and there's room for me to improve from here for sure."
It was a chance to see what players could do in an expanded role. So was anything revealed that might change things in the rotation when the full team gets back together?
"The hard thing is a rotation can't be 12 guys," Snyder said. "There's not a team in the league that plays that way. But to see that these guys were as prepared to compete. There's always situations that guys can step into.
It's difficult, you can't predict them. But the ability to kind of stay focused and stay ready for when those opportunities come. And obviously they came for a lot of guys tonight. AndI think it's an opportunity for guys to really learn individually about the things that are gonna make them successful."