Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 105-90 win over the Toronto Raptors from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen:
1. The Jazz won ... but with a big asterisk
Yes, the Jazz ended up winning Tuesday night’s game by 15 points, so just by that fact alone, it’s hard to be too critical of them. But there’s a gigantic asterisk to the overall good news: while the Jazz started the second half with their starting lineup, the Raptors instead chose to leave their entire list of starters on the bench.
It’s not that the 27-4 Jazz run that followed is completely void, but, well, it was clear that the Raptors were missing their best players. Norman Powell missed a 3-pointer and then turned the ball over in the first minute of the half, and it’s easy to imagine those plays turning out very differently had Kawhi Leonard or Kyle Lowry been in charge, as they were in the first half. Ditto with the Pascal Siakam and Fred Van Vleet misses that happened after that.
But back in the first half, when the Jazz’s second unit was combating the Raptors, it was the Canadian team that went on a 25-5 run. Leonard finished the run out with some superstar plays, but to start the second quarter, it was the defense of Van Vleet, Siakam, Delon Wright, Danny Green, and Serge Ibaka that completely stifled the Jazz’s offense, much to the chagrin of Jazz coach Quin Snyder. They were clever in doing so: they played zone for a couple of possessions, and pressured for others.
“We threw some wrinkles in the game, a little zone,” Lowry said. “We were able to just scramble and play, to speed them up a little.”
Snyder wasn’t happy with the Jazz’s defense during the stretch, either. “It’s hard to stop people if you can’t contain the ball. Guys were driving, getting to the middle of the floor and then it breaks us down and we don’t rebound. We didn’t do a good job.”
The second unit does have an excuse: with Dante Exum not playing due to knee soreness (which is apparently very minor, by the way), Grayson Allen had to take over lead point guard responsibilities. Allen stayed aggressive (good!) but didn’t read the changing defense well, resulting in turnovers and bad looks.
There is a clear silver lining to all of this: it happened during training camp in a game that doesn’t matter. The struggles give Snyder a fantastic opportunity to break down the film during their noon practice Wednesday, look at all of the different things the Raptors did, and discuss how they can improve. That’s a lot more than they got out of Saturday’s Perth game, for example.
2. Joe Ingles: aggressive shooter
Joe Ingles was obviously the star of the night, with a 24-point performance that led all scorers on his 31st birthday. Ingles' night started with a dunk, but it actually seemed like his shot was off early when he missed his first three 3-point shots, all pretty open.
“I felt like the first couple were good looks, but I was breathing pretty heavily at that point, so I was just trying to get them up and not airball,” Ingles said.
From that point on, he hit five of his next eight from beyond the arc, and added seven more points from inside of it. So even though he just gave the self-denigrating answer above, he changed his story really quickly when asked about the made shots.
“I’m the best shooter in the league,” Ingles insisted.
He’s not the best, but he is really good. Early on in his career, you could argue that Ingles' high 3-point percentage was a result of him cherry-picking only the best looks to take. In fact, he took so few of them, Zach Lowe quipped this in an article midway through the 2014-15 season:
“A drinking game guaranteed to leave you sober: Drink every time Joe Ingles takes a shot! ... Ingles takes just six shots per 36 minutes. He has attempted eight free throws all season. His usage rate is about to dip below 10 percent ... he needs to be Grand Canyon levels of wide open to even think about shooting."
He picked it up later on in the season, and finished with a 12.9 percent usage rate, still one of the lowest in the league. But he’s increased it every year since, and in the playoffs in 2017-18, he finished with a 17.8 percent usage rate. Tonight, he used 31.8 percent of the Jazz’s possessions. Ingles is making more and more of an impact every year.
If he could get to 20 percent and still stay as efficient as he is, it’d be a big boon to the Jazz’s offense. Part of what has allowed him to take more shots is the expansion of his game: he can take quicker threes than ever before, but he’s also added a mid-range floater that he showed off twice on Tuesday.
It’s definitely a mistake to take too much from one game, and that’s especially true in the preseason. Raptors coach Nick Nurse mentioned that his team didn’t prepare much for the Jazz specifically, instead preferring to focus on their own schemes. In a normal game, “never leave Jingles” is probably on a team’s whiteboard, but that may not have been the case Tuesday.
3. Different options guarding Kawhi
Kawhi Leonard was fantastic in his second game with the Raptors, scoring 17 points in only 18 minutes of play. It looked like classic Leonard: it’s not that he beats you with killer athleticism, or strength, or skill, though he has all three. He kills you with masterful ownership of his own movements, and a virtuoso’s knowledge of how to exploit defensive mistakes.
So it was interesting to see different players take on the challenge of guarding the former Spurs star. You can see it in this highlight video: six Jazzmen get the chance to guard Leonard on various possessions.
Donovan Mitchell is forcing him baseline, but gives him just enough room that Leonard can use his size and strength advantage to get past him. Joe Ingles, with a footspeed disadvantage, gives him a little bit too much space, and Leonard just pulls up for the three. Jae Crowder bites badly on a pump fake, then fouls him to compound his mistake. All of these are understandable errors, and Leonard taking advantage of them is what makes him so good.
But I like what Royce O’Neale did, even when Leonard was still able to score. He stayed in front of him, sliding his feet within touching distance of Kawhi, but using his body to defend and not his hands. O’Neale’s hands, instead, stayed out or high, ready to bother his shot.
And yeah, Leonard scored anyway. On one possession, he tripped on Gobert’s leg, and made a crazy circus layup. On another, O’Neale forced the miss, and Leonard just got the rebound over O’Neale, just quicker to react to the ball. But O’Neale’s ability to force even the league’s stars into taking those tough shots — even if they’re able to make them — makes him such a valuable addition to the Jazz’s roster, and even a candidate for the Jazz’s highest minute-earning guard off the bench.