Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz 117-111 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers over Salt Lake Tribune Jazz writer Andy Larsen.
1. Let’s talk about Donovan
Donovan Mitchell has had some quite remarkable playoffs, averaging one point per minute, shooting the ball extremely well and making very good decisions on the ball. He plays like a top 5 player – maybe he is.
So the Clippers made a bet they were going to start big, which would mean they could play small and trade everything for the lineups in which Joe Ingles was the main ball player, which usually bothers Ingles. But it was only going to be good if they could outlive Donovan Mitchell by playing against a tall defense.
It was not good. Mitchell scored 8 points in the opening 102 seconds of the game, all on pull-up jumpers. Quick downtime, Ty Lue. It’s time to move on to the # 2 Clippers strategy.
So they started to change, and Mitchell just started to split the change, getting easy baskets. It’s a terribly athletic game.
Clipper Strategy # 3: What if you put Patrick Beverley on Mitchell, and try to mess him up with ball pressure? Here he uses Beverley’s aggression against him and ends up leaving him on the other side of the screen for an open shot.
Alright, good. It’s time to stop messing around. Time to use the big gun, Kawhi Leonard. Former Defensive Player of the Year. The claw. The Terminator. Of course, this could tire Kawhi, making him less effective later on, but it was an option of last resort.
If we’re being honest, Mitchell was too smart to attack Kawhi directly most of the time, instead of just pulling the switch and then attacking him. This is the problem even with great individual defenders – to some extent there is a lot you can do to get them out of the game.
Zach Lowe summed it up.
Now it wasn’t easy to navigate from there. Mitchell looked incredibly tired late in the game. He fought against the area. He appeared to hurt himself a bit when Paul George collided with him 12 seconds from the end and limped off the field. But he insisted he was fine.
“I got hit and it hurts, but I’m fine now. I entered here. I can sprint for you if you want, ”Mitchell said. “S — is coming.”
If we take Mitchell at his word, then the Clippers are set for a short streak. Mitchell being the top player in a series that features Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is an incredibly notable discovery – a discovery that elevates the potential of Jazz to true levels of competition for the Championship.
2. Zone problems
All of Mitchell’s brilliance took the Jazz to a 21-point lead, which the Clippers came back to in about 12 minutes.
That’s because they threw a zone on the Jazz, and the home team looked completely baffled. In fact, Synergy Sports has tracked the number of zonal possessions the Clippers have played – 22. The Jazz have only scored five of those possessions, for 13 points.
(For comparison, Jazz scored 93 points out of the man’s 74 possessions in the half court.)
What is the key to moving the area? Same as a lot of defenses: make it collapse, then find the open man.
For example, here is Mitchell leading against the zone. They do very well to track him down, and he gets the way. But then he has the option of going out, and should use it.
This game here is so good! Except Royce O’Neale passes his shot open and throws it at Mitchell for whoever is farthest.
The other downside to the zone is that it’s not as easy to bounce back defensively, as there isn’t necessarily a man assigned to box every offensive player. And with the kind of zone the Clippers were playing – sometimes with Leonard in the middle – the Jazz could have attacked the glass better.
Like here, Jordan Clarkson throws a shot, he misses. Rudy Gobert has a good rebound position, but not awesome rebound position: Looks like he could have done a bit more to push Leonard under the basket here. In the end, Leonard manages to get his hands on the ball.
Since the Clippers were quite reluctant to use the transition, I might even send an athletic second guy to try and get that rebound, knowing it will be hard to push him back – I’m thinking of O’Neale, to be precise.
Ultimately, though, I think the Jazz are going to be able to beat the zone pretty easily in the future: they’re going to drive, find out where the help is coming from now, and kick it out. Mike Conley’s supernatural ability to do the right reading every time would also help, but even without him I think they’ll do well after a cinematic job.
3. I don’t think Jazz will be able to win in this way again
So here are the four factors for Tonight, from Cleaning The Glass.
You will notice that the Jazz lost the rebound battle, the turnover battle and the free throw battle. And yet, they won this game by simply shooting the absolute lights of the ball, more than 51% out of three.
There was luck there, it must be admitted. Jordan Clarkson had one of the most ridiculous shots I’ve ever seen; he was also on fire, even ignoring that mark. Donovan Mitchell was looking hard at the end of the first half. Joe Ingles did a scoop layup that hit the top corner of the backboard at the perfect angle for it to fall into the basket. Etc. Meanwhile, the Clippers missed a few open threes down the stretch.
My point is, basically, that this series is not over. The Mavericks won the first two games of their series against the Clippers by shooting the lights off the ball, then they cooled off in the remaining five games and lost.
The Jazz can no longer count on a shot like this. They need to get more than two offensive rebounds. They need to push the transition further, which they only did 5% of the time tonight. They need to go more to the free throw line – Mitchell was sure to point out that he had only had two free throw attempts tonight, and these came when the Clippers had to foul in the end Match.
That being said ? There are real reasons to be optimistic.
In particular, the Jazz had an answer for every style of defense the Clippers threw at them except zone defense, and the Jazz have all the tools in the toolbox for attacking an zone.
They managed to keep Leonard and George in check with a formidable defense against O’Neale, Bogdanovic and Ingles. Gobert locks the paint on defensively – the Clippers are afraid to attack the rim when he’s down, and rightly so.
The Clippers had their own aberrant games, like Luke Kennard’s Game 1 and especially Reggie Jackson’s Game 2.
Oh, and Conley could come back.
And then there’s the simple math of the series: The Clippers have to win four of the next five games in order to advance. Again, there’s a chance they could! But it is not likely.
The Jazz are well placed here. Now they really have to turn the screws, even more than they did in Game 2, to close it.