Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 98-86 win over the Boston Celtics from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz guards bounce back
After an ugly two-game stretch, the Jazz’s guards bounced back with excellent performances in some difficult circumstances.
We’ll start with Donovan Mitchell, who led the Jazz with 28 points and six assists. As opposed to his performance on Friday, Mitchell always kept his eyes out in order to find his teammates, especially when the defense used more of their resources to stop him. This pass, for example, is a very difficult one, but is absolutely the right play.
After watching the video, a lot of Mitchell’s success was because of the differences between how the Celtics and Sixers guarded him. The Sixers had Jimmy Butler — Mitchell was only 5-20 with Butler guarding him on Friday — and Butler could navigate the screens and generally get back to contest. But the Celtics played a much more aggressive team defense to stay in front of Mitchell, using switches and ball pressure to keep him under control. Essentially, the Sixers' strategy gave Mitchell iffy mid-range chances, while the Celtics allowed Mitchell to find the open man.
The biggest of the games was from Ricky Rubio, though, who was exceptional on both ends of the floor. Rubio scored 20 points tonight and shot 6-13 from the field. The outside shooting was a nice touch, but I thought Rubio’s defense in general was stellar. Rubio made things really difficult for Irving by staying between him and the ball, then recovering when necessary. Three steals were good, as were the loose balls Ricky picked up.
Yes, there was a moment you’ll see on SportsCenter, when Irving dropped Rubio to the ground with a cross. But I thought Rubio more than made up with it with his overall defensive smarts, and holding Irving to only 20 after scoring 43 against Toronto on Friday is an accomplishment.
Dante Exum was also very good. He did a very nice job of attacking the rim and either finishing there or finding Derrick Favors or Rudy Gobert for easy dunks.
2. The Celtics had a “Bad Jazz” shooting night
Maybe it’s unfair to name bad shooting nights after the Jazz, but after three of the Jazz’s last four losses have come on nights where they shot under 20 percent from three and had bad free-throw shooting performances to boot, it’s easy understand where I found the inspiration.
Tonight, though, that was the Celtics. Just as the Jazz had done in their previous two losses, they missed every corner three, shooting 0-9 from those usually good looks. They also made only five of their 24 other kinds of threes. Those are harder, but you’d still expect something north of 25 percent, not below it.
Does that make the Jazz lucky? Well, yes. But it’s not as if Utah had a good shooting night from deep either: they only made 11-38 of their triples. And I do think the Jazz’s defensive performance was good, though probably not as great as an 88 defensive rating makes it look. There’s still room for improvement.
And oh man, the free throws in this game were a sight to behold. It’s unfortunate that the Celtics don’t have a “miss two consecutive free throws and get a prize” promotion, because both teams would have earned it several times over. The Jazz ended up shooting 17-27 (63 percent) and the Celtics 11-20 (55 percent), but it was far worse until garbage time. At one point, both teams were significantly below .500.
Before the game, I asked Quin Snyder about how worried he is about the free throw shooting for the Jazz. “Everybody’s concerned, the players are concerned. We can practice them, keep shooting them, try to simulate game situations where there’s a pressure free throw in practice,” Snyder said.
But he also noted there’s a point where coaching it, and putting more attention on the problem, can create a psychological pressure. And with fine motor skills, that’s probably not a good thing, players can actually get the yips even more.
3. Turning the early start around
It wasn’t always a foregone conclusion that the game would end up as a win. In fact, the Jazz again got out to a slow start. After calling timeout down 10-2 against Philly, Snyder had to do the same down 7-2 against Boston.
But this time, the Jazz turned things around. What was the message?
According to Jae Crowder, “He didn’t like our pace. Our pace early wasn’t where it needed to be offensively. We wanted to get up and down.”
When Snyder talks about pace, he doesn’t mean “shoot the ball as quickly as possible.” Instead, Snyder wants to be aggressive from the very beginning of a possession onwards, rather than jogging up the court. There’s especially an opportunity to sprint just as soon as you win the ball, and you might be able to beat the opposition up the court.
Crowder does that here.
And Exum starts running just as soon as he thinks Crowder is going to get the ball here.
Even if it’s not that easy, sprinting up the court gives you mismatch opportunities that the Jazz can exploit. Sometimes, that’s Gobert down low or Mitchell beating people off the dribble. But confusion can also result, which can give the Jazz good looks too.
That’s in sharp contrast to what happened in Dallas, when the Jazz scored only three points off of 20 turnovers. Tonight, the Jazz actually had the transition advantage, and it was significantly helpful to boosting their overall output.
They can still do better: 16 points on 15 Boston turnovers isn’t anything special. But this is a big step forward for the Jazz.