A few reserves provided some answers that the Utah Jazz desperately needed.
The Utah Jazz starters were visibly rattled in the opening minutes of an eventual 117-109 road victory over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night.
Maybe it was the recent disappointing stretch — four defeats in the past six outings, including three of the past four — that was weighing on their minds. Or perhaps they had flashbacks to their awful start in Sunday’s eventual 131-119 loss at the Golden State Warriors (now 20-20), which led to an early double-digit deficit that proved too much to completely crawl back from.
Looking utterly indecisive and fragile at first against the Celtics (20-19), the Jazzmen (29-10) again trailed, this time at 16-5, roughly six minutes after the tip.
Enter the all-important Utah Jazz bench
Enter Derrick Favors, who came up with a nice block of Boston All-Star Jayson Tatum and then a dunk on the other end; he finished with an efficient six points, five rebounds, and two blocks to go along with an assist and a steal in 15 minutes of action for the Utah Jazz.
Enter Joe Ingles, who added to his all-time franchise record with smooth 3-point splashes on back-to-back possessions — with the second splash coming off an assist from Favors — which together allowed the Jazz to breathe a bit easier in the early going; he finished with 14 points and five boards while shooting 4-for-8 from downtown.
Enter supreme sixth man Jordan Clarkson, who followed Ingles’ threes in the first quarter with a drive and dish to Rudy Gobert for a dunk; later, he heated up to the tune of a 5-for-10 clip beyond the arc, finishing with 20 points, three rebounds, and three assists.
Enter Georges Niang, who took care of the dirty work with a putback bucket that pulled the Jazz to within three at the 1:14 mark in the first quarter; he finished with five points in addition to two assists and a rebound while setting numerous effective screens along the way.
Collectively, the four bench players who saw minutes versus Boston made a statement and combined for only three turnovers while doing so. No, it was more of a reminder: a reminder that Utah still owns the league’s best record due to widespread unselfishness, which complements its generally crystal clean ball movement and deep array of dangerous shooters.
All night, the Jazz reserves came in with a cool, calm, collected demeanor and subsequently delivered. It was primarily Ingles who had the hot hand early until Clarkson fully got it going in the second, but all four bench men made timely plays throughout, going 10-for-21 from long range as a group, including a couple of threes by Clarkson and Niang to set the tone in the fourth quarter.
True, it was All-Stars Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Mike Conley who made clutch plays late to seal the regular-season sweep over the Celtics. It’s only fair to mention that those three starters plus the much-improved Bojan Bogdanovic and the always gritty Royce O’Neale still totaled 72 points and tallied nine 3-pointers of their own.
Yet the Utah Jazz starters also committed a total of 12 turnovers and 13 fouls while missing on 13 of their attempts from 3-point land.
Yes, without businesslike efforts from the bench, the squad might now be in the midst of a 4-6 stretch.
The Jazz will look to build on the positive outing when they take on the Washington Wizards (14-24) at 5 p.m. MT Thursday. This will be Utah’s third game of a five-game road trip.