Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 113-95 win over the Los Angeles Lakers from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz’s defense takes away what Lakers want to do
This is one of those games where knowing the pace of play makes a big difference in how you evaluate it. The Jazz won 113-95, but the game had a lot of possessions, about 109 of them for both sides. So the Jazz’s offensive rating was just about average (102.7), but their defensive rating was spectacular: 88.0.
So while Donovan Mitchell went off and the Jazz scored 113 points and there was some good stuff on that end, the headline of the game should be about how the Jazz forced the Lakers to shoot 35.9 percent from the field and just 18 percent from three.
They did that by taking away the things the Lakers like to do. First and foremost was their transition defense: the Lakers lead the league in the number of their possessions they use in transition. So getting back in transition defense was always going to be key.
There were some lapses on that end in the third quarter, but overall it was a very solid performance, limiting the Lakers to just seven fast break points tonight when they average 20. According to the box score, they shot just 2/13 in those situations. The CleaningTheGlass numbers aren’t quite that nice, putting the Jazz at allowing 1 point per transition opportunity tonight, but either way, the Jazz did a good job on that end.
You can see Lonzo Ball thinking that he has an advantage here. But Rudy Gobert is already back, and gets the easy stuff out of bounds.
The Jazz also did a very good job at defending Kyle Kuzma and Ball. Kuzma was coming off a 41-point explosion, his career high, but the Jazz prevented him from scoring efficiently as he shot 4-18 from the floor. Ball shot 3-13 from the field, adding only seven points.
This is a 3-on-2, and it’s Jae Crowder and Georges Niang streaming back — maybe not the best athletes on the Jazz’s roster. But they backpedal, make the Lakers make an extra pass, and then Crowder is there for the block.
Royce O’Neale, Donovan Mitchell, and Joe Ingles did a really nice job on the perimeter defensively, blowing up the Lakers' initial actions. And then, because the what the Lakers run is “pretty simple,” by Luke Walton’s admission, once you stop that first action, they didn’t have a lot to follow it up with. That meant a lot of ugly Brandon Ingram isolations, Javale McGee trying to boldly go where he’s never gone before, and Michael Beasley taking 15 shots in 17 minutes. That’s a recipe for success if I’ve ever heard one.
2. Taking advantage of how the defense plays you
You’ve seen teams use this strategy before: collapse on Mitchell, leaving the rest of the Jazz’s role players to try and beat you. But from the get-go, the Jazz’s role players actually did punish that approach, especially Royce O’Neale.
O’Neale finished with 17 points: five 3-point shots (a career-high, though so was his 12 attempts) and two free-throws. Look at how much Ingram is shading towards Mitchell in the paint, he’s honestly giving O’Neale no respect at all.
O’Neale is a better shooter than this. I know he was only averaging 0.5 threes per game, but that’s mostly just because he doesn’t play that much: he was shooting 38.6 percent from behind the arc coming into tonight. He’s been doing shooting work teamed up with Kyle Korver in recent days, and believe it or not, O’Neale has beaten Korver in some of the shooting contests we’ve been able to witness, including one after shootaround Friday.
Of course, you can also manipulate the way the defense plays. I don’t know how much of Ingles getting an extra step was because Mitchell pointed cross-court to O’Neale, and how much of this was just bad transition defense, but this no-look pass to Ingles for the corner three was beautiful.
I don’t know if Mitchell is better as a point guard or as a shooting guard. I had been leaning pretty heavily towards the latter, but he’s been showing some unique passing talent in recent games. Then again, recent games have also seen the Jazz play some pretty iffy defenses.
3. Recovering for a back-to-back
The Jazz play again Saturday night, against the Chicago Bulls, also at 8 PM. As a result, they have about 21 hours to rest up, get ready, and play another NBA team.
But it might be tougher than normal given that the Jazz essentially played an eight-man rotation on Friday. Everyone’s minutes but Royce O’Neale’s were kept at pretty reasonable limits, but O’Neale played 39:38, even having to play with the garbage-time unit at the end of the game. This is what having six injured players does to you.
Of course, it might be easier than the usual back-to-back, too: this one is at home too, and the second game is against Chicago, who played a pretty awful game in Golden State tonight, giving up 146 points to the Warriors in a regulation contest, losing by 37.
But I always think it’s interesting how much recovery work the players go through to give themselves the best chance at success. They meet with the training staff both right after the game ends and before the game starts the next day. In both sessions, the staff works on each player with the standard recovery measures, plus directly addressing the bumps, bruises, and more maladies that a player picks up over the course of an NBA season.
And then there’s sleep to consider, too. For me, it’s tough to go to sleep after a game: the adrenaline of being at a major competitive event with a large, loud crowd still keeps flowing. Plus, my brain seemingly refuses to turn off, thinking about and analyzing the players and plays that I’ve just witnessed. The players must feel the same way.
Mitchell, for example, said that at times last season, he didn’t get to sleep until 2 a.m., watching film directly after the game while it was fresh on his mind. But that approach means that your sleep schedule might get messed up, throwing you somewhat out of sorts.
“It’s mental. We could easily say that we had a tough but good game tonight, and tomorrow we can be lackluster. But we can’t have that," Mitchell said. “We have to get into our recovery, get our treatments, getting to sleep — that’s always tough.”