Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 101-91 win over the Brooklyn Nets from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Rudy Gobert was everything we want him to be
Rudy Gobert played at an absolute All-NBA level on Wednesday night, on both ends of the floor.
On offense, he was a monster: 23 points on 14 shots, showing the kind of finishing around the rim that he displays when he’s at his very best. Of course, there were dunks, but he also made hook shots (left-handed, even!) and scoop layups as he finished through contact.
Joe Ingles explained some of what was going on when I asked him about it. “A lot of teams now are jacking him up on the free-throw line to stop his rolling. Tonight was different, they leave their fives all the way back and it gives him a little bit of a free run," Ingles said.
But the defensive end was where I was really impressed, where he just made life incredibly difficult for the Nets with the form that won him Defensive Player of the Year last year. Gobert ended up with four blocks, but way more telling was how the Nets shot around the rim: they made just 11 of their 25 rim shots, and shot just 5-19 on anything between the restricted area and 14 feet out. I’ll do the math for you: that’s 16/44 overall, for just 36 percent shooting on the closest shots in basketball. That’s a huge win.
“Gobert makes a huge difference,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told the media. “Even when they make a mistake, he’s back there. He’s obviously an elite presence at the rim, so we did not get good looks.”
Interestingly, Ingles also said that Gobert’s teammates have been talking to him about regaining DPOY form. “That what we expect him to do, really, that’s what’s he’s done his whole career. We’ve all challenged him on it, we’ve spoken to him about it. I think he’s been a little bit up and down this year but he really has turned the corner and taking the pride on the defensive end.”
Of course, he’s not alone on the defensive end, and the Jazz’s guards really improved tonight as well. But when Gobert makes an impact like this, well, the Jazz are really hard to beat.
2. Donovan Mitchell went semi-nova
I don’t think we can say Mitchell was “supernova” hot on Wednesday night. He made 12 of his 24 shots, exactly half, for his 29 points. And he scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, which is good, but not, like, “catastrophic explosion that ejects most of a star’s mass” brilliant.
So I’m going with “semi-nova”. In the fourth quarter, he shot 6-11, both making and missing tough shots along with creating easy looks for himself. But it was exactly what the Jazz needed, because most of the team had come up “brown dwarf” cold earlier in the game. Through three quarters, the Jazz were only shooting 6-22 from three, were only making two-thirds of their free-throws, and just generally having a tough time scoring the ball. You know, Jazz stuff.
And then Mitchell came in and took over in front of his family and friends coming from NYC and neighboring areas.
In many ways, it gives credence to something Dennis Lindsey told me about on Tuesday, that the Jazz’s offense was hard to evaluate without Mitchell being out there. "Donovan Mitchell for example, missing four games and parts of three others, that’s close to 30 percent of the season. What kind of offensive dilemmas does that create?”
The Jazz are 1-6 this season when Mitchell misses some or all of the game, which means they’re 9-6 when he’s healthy. That’s a whole lot better, and maybe should ease some of the worries around Jazzland.
It’s also proof of this: Donovan Mitchell is a star, no matter what temperature he is.
3. Two Jazz bench guards, without Burks, step up
With Alec Burks traded, the Jazz needed some scoring help from their bench tonight. They got it from two unlikely sources, Royce O’Neale and Raul Neto.
O’Neale scored 13 points and hit all three of this 3-point attempts, the first time he’s hit three 3s in the regular season since before the trade deadline last year. But I was encouraged that O’Neale actively took his shots, rather than avoiding the long-ball as he has in recent games. It’s only the third time this year that he’s taken three 3s or more. (Say that three times fast.)
When O’Neale passes up open shots, it kills the offense and rewards the defense for choosing to help off of him. Coming into the game, the Jazz had been outscored by 12.2 points per 100 possessions with O’Neale on the floor, a drastic reversal from the +10 he was last season. Games like this give reason for optimism that he can find that level again.
Neto’s game relied more on mid-range shooting, something that the Jazz could use more of against certain lineups. Remember, the Brooklyn bigs were playing deep in the paint, leaving space for jump shooters in the middle. The Jazz want to be smart about taking those shots, and not take too many, but if other things aren’t working, the mid-range can become an option. Also, at least a mid-range shot isn’t a turnover, and Neto avoided making any of those tonight.
Meanwhile, Ricky Rubio and Dante Exum had dismal offensive nights, though both contributed defensively. Rubio made zero shots (other than his six free-throws) on nine attempts, including 0-5 from 3-point range. But Neto got significant playing time — nearly 16 minutes — because Dante Exum continued to struggle. He played just under seven minutes after committing three awful turnovers in the first half. When he did play at the second half, he played off the ball at the two-guard spot.
Kyle Korver should be able to help this guard problem, and obviously improve the Jazz’s shooting, so long as he’s able to stay on the floor defensively. More analysis on that coming tomorrow.