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Bojan Bogdanovic has happy return as Pistons top Jazz


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SALT LAKE CITY — The Vivint Arena crowd erupted as Bojan Bogdanovic was announced in the Detroit Pistons' starting lineup on Wednesday. Later, Bogdanovic waved to a standing ovation that followed a tribute video.

Jazz fans hadn't forgotten what Bogdanovic did in his three seasons in Salt Lake City — the two game winners, the defensive effort in the playoffs, the amazing consistency.

But, as it turns out, Bogdanovic hasn't forgotten how to win in Utah, either.

The former Jazzman finished with 23 points, five rebounds and three assists to lead Detroit to a 125-116 victory over the Jazz. Utah dropped to 12-8 on the season with the loss.

"I spent a great three years here and had great runs to the playoffs, so it was extra special to play in front of these great fans and get a win like that," Bogdanovic said.

Malik Beasley had 29 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Jazz, while Jordan Clarkson added 24 points for Utah. The Jazz shot nearly 50% from the field and 44% from 3-point range. The Jazz were fine on the offensive side of things — a few costly late turnovers notwithstanding — but they struggled to string together stops.

The Pistons shot 49% from the field, 50% from the 3-point line and 92% from the free-throw line — numbers that highlight Utah's immense struggles on the defensive side on Wednesday. Detroit was 21 points better than their season offensive rating of 110.0.

So what was the cause?

There were a lot of reasons.

"I think we're doing a very poor job of pick-and-roll defense," Jazz coach Will Hardy said. "I've got to do a better job of teaching that. We are laying on screens, our pickup lines are bad, we're not physical with the ball handler."

That said, the Jazz want to give up midrange shots. And Detroit had a really good night from the midrange, shooting 20-of-46 from the area; for comparison, the Jazz took just 27 shots from midrange.

That's a long way of saying that Detroit took a lot of the shots the Jazz wanted them to — and simply made them.

"We forced them into some midrange shots that they made a lot of," Hardy said. "That's been a thing that's happened a lot this year, like we're the 28th best defense defending the midrange this year. But that's a shot that we're looking to give up."

On Wednesday, though, it was a shot that killed them.

"Honestly, it just sucks," Beasley said. "I think we're a way better team than them, and tonight they were better than us and they wanted more. I thought this is the most important game of the year, just because of the loss in LA and then the schedule we have coming up — a must win for us. We didn't execute and didn't get back on defense, and that's been a problem."

So far, at least, that's been the case. Utah's been the surprise of the league in the first month of the season, and the Pistons have struggled to collect any kinds of wins.

The Pistons had lost seven in a row — not to mention 10 straight on the road — before beating Denver on Tuesday — their first road victory this season. So, yeah, it was a bad loss.

"As a team, we've gotten to this point by playing with a chip on our shoulder," Hardy said. "And I do not think that we had that chip in the first half."

And in the second half, the Pistons did enough to hold off a much more urgent Jazz team. It was Bogdanovic who was responsible for two key plays that helped keep Utah out of reach down the stretch.

He first drove to the paint and fired a two-handed pass over his head for a wide-open Alec Burks 3-pointer. On the next possession, he drew a foul and sank two free throws.

And just like that, a 3-point game was a three-possession game.

The elbow on Markkanen

Late in the game, Lauri Markkanen was elbowed in the face by Jalen Duren as they came down from a jump ball. Markkanen collapsed to the floor and held his face in pain, but the officials didn't see the incident.

Play was stopped after a quick timeout by Detroit, and the Jazz immediately petitioned to have the play reviewed. The problem was there was no foul called — and the officials can't just trigger a review when no call was made. The timeout made it so the officials couldn't call a late foul once they saw Markkanen on the ground, either.

That didn't make Hardy feel any better about it.

"No one saw it," Hardy said. "And so there was no foul call, and you can't just review a play that there's no whistle blown. I'm gonna stop there."

The 'Dok-Kessler lineup

Hardy threw out a surprise lineup late in the first half. For the first time this season, Udoka Azubuike was called on to play meaningful minutes. Oh, and he was asked to do it alongside fellow center Walker Kessler.

For less than two minutes to close the half, the Jazz went with two non-shooting centers. Welcome back to the 1990s!

So what was Hardy's reasoning?

"We wanted to try to give our second unit something as an advantage," he said. "We thought that those two guys as screen setters for JC and Beas would be good and hopefully they'll be able to get on the glass on both ends, seeing how we've struggled rebounding the ball. It was just something we thought would give us a little bit of a different look and something we worked on in practice and liked. So stay tuned, it may happen again."

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Ryan Miller has covered the Utah Jazz for KSL.com since 2018.

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