Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 111-84 win over the Miami Heat from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz’s defense dominant against undermanned Heat squad
The Miami Heat scored just 84 points all night long, but even that overstates how successful they were on the offensive end thanks to a 31-point fourth quarter of garbage time. But before that, the Jazz were even better, allowing just 53 points through three quarters to this Heat team.
The biggest factor for the Jazz was just how dominant they were at the rim, thanks to Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. On shots within three feet of the basket, the easiest shots in the game, the Heat shot just 9-24. Go out a little further, those shots elsewhere in the paint feet went in just 4-13 times. That is the kind of Jazz defense that this team is known for.
Against a team like this that doesn’t exactly know how it’s going to score (and that was especially true with Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside out), it’s kind of remarkable just how scary Gobert is to the opposition. The NBA’s elite players have counters, but against a team that doesn’t? Well, Gobert’s good enough to swallow everything at the rim.
The perimeter players also helped Gobert out by staying with their Heat counterparts, making his life easier and honestly forcing misses of their own. This is really good defense by Jae Crowder, for example.
But of course, that they’re running that isolation play that early in the game for James Johnson is an indication of the Heat’s level of execution in the game.
2. Donovan Mitchell’s superb night
I thought Wednesday’s game was one of Donovan Mitchell’s best games of the season, even though the 21 points don’t jump off the page. But Mitchell’s offensive performance, especially in the third quarter, showed some strides. Mitchell played within himself, and regularly used change of pace moves to get himself open.
Here’s his highlight video from tonight’s game.
First basket, he picks up a loose ball, then makes the finish by faking right and going left. Next possession, he goes around the screen, doesn’t like what he sees, steps back, goes around the screen the other way, then fakes the stepback three, before exploding to the open space with one foot.
Even after getting an offensive rebound, he’s not trying to beat Bam Adebayo up to the rim. Instead, he stays patient, pump-fakes him, then takes advantage. On a corner three, pump-fakes the defender past him, then takes the open shot.
That change of pace is something he talked about at shootaround in the morning, and so it was really encouraging to see him use it to good success in the game itself.
But when I asked Quin Snyder about his game, Snyder went first to his defense. Mitchell picked up two steals, but I thought his contributions in guarding on the wing were excellent as well.
That’s been an up and down part of Mitchell’s game this season, and I actually think it’s an important bellwether for his overall game. If he can find himself on the defensive end, it allows the Jazz to get out in transition or simply just force mismatches that they can exploit later.
“I think he was focused on the defensive end first and foremost and then the game just presents itself to you," Snyder said. "Each possession is different, but I think his mind was right about guarding and about competing.”
3. What’s a close game?
Here’s a weird piece of trivia about the Jazz’s season so far: they’re playing hardly any close games. They’ve played 10 games this season in which the score has been within five points within the last five minutes, a pretty wide margin as far as these “clutch” statistics go. The only teams in the NBA that have played fewer are the 6-win Cavs and the 4-win Suns.
And actually, if you want to go restrictive about the criteria, and say a close game is one where the score is within one possession with a minute left to go, the Jazz have only played four games, the very least in the NBA this season.
So what’s going on with the trick-or-treat Jazz? I have some hypotheses.
Hypothesis No. 1: The snowball effect. Turnovers lead to opponent makes lead to Jazz half-court possessions lead to missed shots. Or, the Jazz can take care of the ball, or make a shot, which impacts the possessions for the next minute. But those killer turnovers aren’t just zero points for you, they’re 2-3 points for your opponent plus hurting your next possession.
Hypothesis No. 2: With the Jazz roster having such continuity, the players on the roster are pretty content with where they’re at in terms of the rotation. Some of what drives an NBA team to come back from deficits is the desire to earn those roles on the team, but there are pretty clearly six defined potential starters and the rest of the players are bench guys.
Hypothesis No. 3: With the Jazz’s roster having such continuity, the players on the roster are connected enough that the success or failure of one unit impacts the success or failure of the others. I’m thinking specifically of the Dallas 50-point loss. That second unit that played in the fourth quarter was clearly not especially concerned about the margin, they knew they had lost and played like it.
Hypothesis No. 4: Randomness. Over a 29-game sample size, the difference between four close games and eight close games (which would be about average) is just not that big.
I think I like hypotheses No. 1 and No. 4 the best, but of course I do: they’re the explanations that don’t rely on the wishy-washy and hard to measure things like “team chemistry” and “motivation.” Regardless, the trend so far this year is a little bit weird. We’ll see if it evens out throughout the season.