New Orleans head coach Stan van Gundy made his priorities clear before tipoff Tuesday night.
“We’re not trying to give up shots on the perimeter, but our priority is still protecting the paint,” he said. “What are we going to do? Stay outside and give Rudy Gobert dunks and give Donovan Mitchell layups? No, we’re not going to do that.”
Protecting the paint was No. 1.
That meant the 3 would have to be No. 2.
And the Utah Jazz made the Pelicans pay for it. En route to their sixth straight win, the Jazz (10-4) once again torched the nets from 3-point range. The Jazz made 21 triples in all, the fourth time in six games the team hit 20-plus shots from deep.
“We’re working, whether we’re running or not, to stay focused and space and re-space,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “When we do that and move the ball, we’re capable of getting some looks. We’re making them right now and hopefully we keep making them.”
The contrast of styles made this a collision course that was somewhat predictable. Coming into the game, the Jazz were making more triples (over 16 per game) than any other team in the league. New Orleans, meanwhile, was giving up the most 3-pointers per game (more than 42 attempts per contest). In the end, the Jazz made nearly as many 3-point shots as they did 2-point shots, hitting 21 triples to 22 makes inside the arc.
But those shots wouldn’t be possible without effort on the defensive end, Snyder said.
“Defending creates those shots and defending keeps us in the game if they’re not going in,” he said.
The two-time Defensive Player of the Year agreed.
“When we get stops, we can run on teams and we have so many shooters,” Rudy Gobert said. “It goes full circle.”
Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 28 points on 9-of-15 shooting. It was a Mitchell triple that put the Jazz up 10 midway through the first quarter. The Pelicans would rally to take briefly take a lead behind the efforts of sophomore star Zion Williamson. The Pelicans big man had a game-high 32 points on 14-of-19 shooting.
But it wouldn’t be enough to slow down a hot Jazz team.
Forward Georges Niang scored eight of his 10 points in the second quarter, helping the team to a 55-49 halftime lead. The Jazz bench combined for 54 points on the night. Forward Joe Ingles, back after missing four games with a sore Achilles, went for 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting from 3.
“We’ve been open about the style we want to play,” Ingles said. “We think we’re good at it. We’ve got guys that can run. Our bigs run. That opens it up. With Rudy running down the lane, they collapse a little bit and we’ve got guys that can make plays.”
The Pelicans outscored the Jazz in the paint 64-42. But Gobert was key on both ends of the floor in victory. The Stifle Tower had 13 points and 18 of his team’s 58 rebounds.
“We knew that they’re a very athletic team, very talented team and we knew they were going to be aggressive,” Gobert said. “I have to be physical, match their physicality and make sure I get the rebounds for my teammates and make sure I’m being the defensive player that I am for my team.”
The Jazz pulled away from New Orleans in the third, outscoring the Pelicans by 16 in the period. Ingles’ 3-point shot in the final moments of the quarter, put his team up by 21.
The game was never in doubt from there.
With the Pelicans staying in Salt Lake City for a rematch on Thursday night, however, Snyder was already cautioning his team from celebrating too much.
“You can’t always rely on the ball going in the basket,” he said. “We’ve got to flush this game and forget about it and be ready for the next one. It’s a quick turnaround. … It’s hard to beat a team two times in a row, especially a team as good as they are.”
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) January 20, 2021
To help combat misinformation and ease fears regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the league has discussed having players vaccinated as part of a public service announcement.
“In the African American community, there’s been enormously disparate impact from COVID … but now, somewhat perversely, there’s been enormous resistance [to vaccinations] in the African American community for understandable historical reasons,” Silver said at a virtual conference Tuesday. “If that resistance continues, it would be very much a double whammy to the Black community, because the only way out of this pandemic is to get vaccinated.”
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said he has yet to discuss the possibility with his team.
“We would encourage everybody to take the vaccine,” Snyder said Tuesday. “Everybody’s got a different perspective and we haven’t had specific conversations. We’re just trying to follow the current protocols the best we can and, if something becomes available, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
New Orleans Pelicans head coach Stan van Gundy is hopeful players will be receptive to the idea.
“If we can’t figure out how to get it widely distributed faster than we are right now and we can’t convince people to take it, the vaccine is not going to give us the immunity we want,” the coach said before his team’s game against the Jazz. “If we can have NBA players encourage people to get the vaccine, I think that’s a fantastic use of their platform.”
The Jazz and Pelicans will tip it up again on Thursday night, the first of several two-game series the team will play in this pandemic-truncated season. The rematch is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Vivint Arena.