I'll give them a lot of credit. They're really good and I thought their defense was very intense and good. —Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Before Wednesday’s tipoff, Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy heaped big praise on the Utah Jazz.
“I think they have flown under the radar all year,” Van Gundy said of the Jazz in his pregame interview. “They are a really good team.”
It didn’t help the Pistons any that they clearly saw Utah on the radar. On this night, the Jazz overpowered Detroit for a 97-83 victory in Utah’s final game at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Van Gundy was as impressed with the Jazz as he was depressed about his own team’s performance. Detroit was blown out for the second night in a row, having lost 128-96 in Cleveland on Tuesday as Utah rested.
“I’ll give them a lot of credit. They’re really good and I thought their defense was very intense and good,” Van Gundy said of the Jazz. “Their ball movement was outstanding in the first half, so I’m not taking anything away from them at all.”
Yes, there was a but.
“We didn’t bring anything,” Van Gundy added. “I’m not jumping all over our guys. We’ve been so up and down. So every time you think you are starting to play better, that’s why I tell you guys (media) when you ask, ‘Do you think you’ve turned a corner?’ Hell no. Every time we play a couple big games, you almost can count on us coming right back down.”
The Jazz (43-25) really can’t afford to do that right now if they hope to hold onto the No. 4 position and home-court advantage in the Western Conference, and they played with that urgency right from the get-go.
Utah used a 9-0 run to establish a 14-5 lead, and that seemed to deflate the Pistons. Detroit (33-35) scored just 16 points in the first quarter and 35 points in the first half on 34 percent shooting.
That performance led to Snyder dishing out a compliment to his focused squad.
“We were really fundamentally sound,” Snyder said. “We played good defense. I don’t give that up very easily, but that early part of the game there (were) a lot of plays where we executed and guys were doing things for each other instinctively.”
As usual, Rudy Gobert spearheaded the defensive effort, finishing with four blocks. Detroit shot only 41.9 percent for the game and scored just 21 points in the fourth quarter when Utah shut the door on a comeback attempt.
“That’s what we wanted to do — hit first,” Jazz forward Joe Johnson said. “I thought we did a great job getting off to a great start and finishing the game as well.”
Gobert pointed out the Jazz communicated well, focused on rebounding (43-39 edge) and snagged loose balls so they could push it offensively.
“They’re a good team. We knew they were going to pick it up offensively and they did in the third quarter,” Snyder said. “And then I thought we settled in again and did some good things in the fourth. That’s as sound and as solid as we’ve been defensively in a while in that first half.”
Utah was just as crisp offensively, finishing with 28 assists and hitting 13 of 28 3-pointers. Gordon Hayward had a game-high 25 points, George Hill scored 17 and Johnson, Gobert and Joe Ingles each contributed 12 points.
It was mostly a great way to successfully start an important four-game road trip — only mostly because starting shooting Rodney Hood reaggravated his ailing right knee and was unable to play in the second half. Derrick Favors (knee) and Shelvin Mack (ankle) didn't play.
Everything else, though, went Utah’s way on this night.
The Jazz will need to play even better for that to happen Thursday night in Cleveland against the defending NBA champions.
"Considering where we are in the standings, knowing it’s a tight race, we really have to value each and every game," Johnson said. "It’s going to be a playoff-type game every time we play."