SALT LAKE CITY – Joe Ingles and the Utah Jazz had been running into form of late, winners in three straight coming into their Sunday morning showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks – owners of the NBA’s best record (48-14).
In what was a playoff like atmosphere at Vivint Smart Homes Arena in Salt Lake City, the Jazz were able to outlast Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to finish 115-111 winners.
Among the raucous Jazz crowd was a large contingent of Australian fans, visiting the US on an NBA basketball fan tour.
At the beginning of the season the match-up was set to pit Joe Ingles and Dante Exum of the Jazz against Thon Maker and Matthew Dellavedova of the Bucks, however the reality was far from that.
With the Milwaukee duo traded and Exum still sideline with an ankle injury, Ingles was the lone Australian on the floor. Although Exum was unavailable for the media, he did complete a full warm-up on the floor and confirmed to The Pick and Roll that he is feeling good and his return is imminent.
Ingles would finish with 14 points, three rebounds and eight assists on the night in 31 minutes. The eight assists came on the back of head coach Quin Snyder’s comments on the evolution of his playmaking pre-game.
“He's been a playmaker. That is one of the things from when he got here, when you can shoot the way he can from three, it allows you to read and have options if they are taking that away,” Snyder explained.
The Bucks came into the game heavily shorthanded, with starting guards Eric Bledsoe (back soreness) and Malcolm Brogdon (right foot) sidelined in what was the second game of a back-to-back. Those two joined Sterling Brown, Donte DiVincenzo and George Hill on the sidelines, leaving the Bucks to unleash a jumbo line-up with All-Star Khris Middleton the shortest player at 6-foot-8.
With the Milwaukee starters resembling Space Jam’s Monstars, the Jazz offense sputtered, taking 4:40 to make their first basket; a Joe Ingles triple.
Once the Bucks were forced to stretch deep into their bench with combinations rarely used on the season, Utah found their mojo, completing a 47-26 run through to halftime, heading into the break with a 53-46 advantage.
Perhaps the highlight of the entire game with 7:36 left in the second quarter, as Derrick Favors received an Ingles bounce pass in a pick and roll situation. Favors received the pass and threw down a vicious poster dunk on Milwaukee forward Ersan Ilyasova.
The combination was fitting, as Snyder spoke to the chemistry between the two before the game.
"I think there is a chemistry and a feel that those two guys have when they play together. Joe's size, I think, allows him the opportunity to find different passing lanes."
"Because Joe can shoot the ball, it's hard to go under on that play without giving him a clean look from three."
Much like the first half, the Bucks starters continued to dominate, holding a game-high 90-73 advantage with 9:39 left in the game. A long-two for Ingles stemmed the flow, giving the Jazz life and once again ungluing the Jazz fans from their seats.
Donovan Mitchell would take over from that point, light the Bucks up for 19 points in the fourth quarter, en route to a career-high 46-point outburst. Ingles would also chip in with six in the final frame, as the roof felt at times close to being lifted off the arena.
The fatigue was evident down the stretch for Milwaukee, who arrived in Salt Lake City at approximately 3am from their win against the Los Angeles Lakers the night before.
Antetokounmpo missed four critical free-throws in the game’s final 1:21, finishing 11-for-19 overall from the charity stripe, the only blip in a simply magnificent performance. The MVP candidate finished with 43 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists.
Those free-throws ensured the Jazz were able to hold on, improving their record to 36-26 on the season.
“I just think we kept competing. It starts on the defensive end and just had the will to compete, regardless of the score, in every situation,” a proud Snyder said post-game.
When you do that, it doesn’t always work out, but you give yourself a chance and we put ourselves in the position when some guys made some plays. Donovan [Mitchell], offensively, was able to get to the rim. His reads late, took what they gave him. It was terrific.”
Additionally, the leadership of Ingles during critical moments in the fourth quarter was far from lost on the Jazz head coach.
“We have talked about Joe [Ingles’] leadership on the court. You could tell in dead ball situations how connected our team was and that becomes even more important in situations like that when you are down and you need each other even more.”
The Jazz will next meet the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday morning – Tip-off is at 2PM (AEST)