After three quarters of sloppy play, Joe Ingles stood near center court, three fingers raised in the air before the ball got to the hoop. Georges Niang waited until after the ball had splashed the net to tilt his head back and let out a celebratory roar.
And at that point, the guy everyone says looks like a soccer dad and the man they call the Minivan, so help them, had turned the darn thing around.
The Utah Jazz earned a 132-110 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night at Vivint Arena — a win that wouldn’t have been possible without the superior play of the team’s bench.
Niang had a season-high 21 on perfect 7-for-7 shooting from behind the arc. Ingles scored 21 points on 7-of-10 3-point shooting. And Sixth Man of the Year frontrunner Jordan Clarkson came off the bench to give the Jazz 20 points and four assists.
The 19 bench 3-pointers helped the Jazz to, yet again, set a new franchise record with 28 3-pointers made.
“I don’t want to just give credit to the bench,” Niang said afterward. “But I think that’s an incredible accomplishment. Nineteen 3s is a lot of points. I wasn’t a math major, but that’s a lot of points.”
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) February 23, 2021
The Jazz found themselves trailing by double-digits midway through the third quarter, after a turnover (their 16th to that point) turned into an outlet pass and a fast-break dunk that put Charlotte up 81-70.
“The way they play is aggressive,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “When you don’t [take care of the ball], you’re going the other direction. Those plays are big swings.”
At that point, though, the Jazz simply looked like they’d had enough.
“It just shows the will and the character of this team,” said Donovan Mitchell, who finished the game with a game-high 23 points and eight assists. “That’s really where it starts with us. It’s never going to be perfect. We’re going to have halves like that. But it’s what we do next.”
What happened next?
Mitchell hit a 3-pointer and split the defense for a pretty layup. Ingles drained a 3 on one end and took a charge on the other. And when Niang hit one of his seven threes in the final seconds of the quarter, the Jazz were back on top.
It was all Jazz after that. The Jazz’s three bench scorers, playing alongside Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley ripped off a 20-2 run that was capped by Niang’s sixth triple of the night.
Charlotte’s star rookie, LaMelo Ball, scored 21 points and former Jazzman Gordon Hayward scored 21 of his own before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent hand injury.
“They were really comfortable the whole game,” Gobert said. “We didn’t have much physicality and they were feeling good. When we started getting into them a little more, get physical and protect the basket, it was a different game.”
On the night:
• Gobert was plus-24
• Conley was plus-22
• Ingles was plus-32
• Clarkson was plus-15
• Niang was plus-27
“When you’re in rhythm and shots are going in, life is really good,” Niang said. “You feel like you’re in a zone. … When you make shots, life is great. There are no problems ever in the world.”
Niang credited Gobert (10 points, 12 rebounds, six blocks), especially with the turnaround.
“Rudy Gobert did a great job of anchoring our defense and coming up with huge blocks so we could come out and fast-break and not let them have their defense set,” Niang said. “That’s the great thing about this team. We have guys who buy in and sacrifice in their roles.”
For Niang, though, Monday’s was a breakout performance for which he’d been waiting.
“All his teammates know how hard he works and he’s doing all the little things he can do to help the team,” Snyder said of Niang. “His shooting is something that, when he’s on like that, it’s a big deal for us. It’s a weapon.”
Said Mitchell, “We’re happy for him. This night is well-earned for him, and he’s going to have many more just like this.”
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are coming to town. The battle between the West’s top two squads tips off at Wednesday at 8 p.m.