Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 111-104 win over the Denver Nuggets from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Excellent defense against one of the league’s best offenses leads Jazz to victory
As a team, the Jazz were phenomenal defensively tonight, especially in the first half where they had one of their best performances of the whole season.
Talking about Rudy Gobert’s defensive excellence is kind of repetitive at this point, but here are the numbers: the Nuggets made just 22 of their 45 shots within four feet of the basket, or 48 percent. Gobert (and his teammates, to be fair) basically just turned layups into averagely-efficient shots. And then there’s Nikola Jokic’s whole game, in which the Nuggets star scored just 16 on 5-15 shooting, adding five fouls and five turnovers.
I mean, this block in the game’s final minute is just an incredible defensive play. Gobert rotates over to stop Gary Harris on the drive, then once Harris makes the right read to Jokic, Gobert still turns and gets up high enough to block the shot. The referees thought that it was a goaltend at first, but review proved that it was a clean block.
But Gobert wasn’t alone. The game’s best defensive rating actually belonged to Derrick Favors, who started the game defending Jokic. In the 30 minutes Favors was on the floor, the Jazz allowed a 77.6 defensive rating. Sheesh.
Of course, Favors wasn’t out there alone. Royce O’Neale played phenomenal defense on Isaiah Thomas whenever Thomas played, relegating him to a team-low -10 when he was on the court. This is soul-crushing stuff — after the game, Thomas went out to the Pepsi Center court and got some shots up to take his mind off of things.
Other guys played well too. Joe Ingles had two steals and a block, Thabo Sefolosha had two steals too, and Kyle Korver picked up a steal and stayed in front of his man reliably. It was a total team effort, on a night where it would have been understandable to give in to tired legs against the team with the best record in the Western Conference.
2. Joe Ingles is just a pick and roll genius
Ingles was a +16 tonight, tied for highest on the team. With no point guards healthy again, he was the one who ran the show for the most part, even more than Donovan Mitchell. And he was definitely up to the task, finishing with 15 points and 10 assists, next to only two turnovers.
One of the best weapons in Ingles’ toolbox is the pass fake. You probably know about the one that he uses reliably in the paint, where he fakes the shovel pass to the rolling big man then finishes with an easy left-hand layup.
But how about the pass-fake-fake, where he fakes the pass-fake and then actually makes the pass?
He’s also gotten adept at plays like this, where he fakes the pass to a perimeter player only to deliver it to the open roll guy. This time, the defense bit so badly that Ingles couldn’t help but laugh as he jogged back on defense.
It’s fascinating how Ingles can have a much better pick and roll game than someone like Donovan Mitchell, who obviously has many more tools in his scoring toolbox than Ingles does. But Ingles’ ability to consistently make the right read and find the open player, along with his sense of timing, makes him more efficient for the time being.
That’s not to say that will be the case forever, though.
“There’s a lot I have to work on to get like that," Mitchell said. "He’s a tremendous pick-and-roll player, especially with Fav on that half-roll. Just watching him do it live, he makes it look so easy, but there’s a lot of work that goes into that.”
If Mitchell can get the feel to go along with the talent, he could lead stellar Jazz offenses for years to come.
3. Favors in the half-roll
Since Mitchell mentioned it, let’s talk about Derrick Favors’ role in the pick-and-roll. Essentially, he’s better at catching the ball in the 13-18 feet range and then doing something productive with it than Gobert is, which makes him a different kind of weapon on the same kind of play.
Here’s one of Ingles’ passes that wasn’t excellent: this ball is way behind Favors rolling to the rim. But Favors somehow catches this ball anyway and immediately fires it out to Korver for the three. That’s one of those sneakily amazing athletic plays that you can miss in a split-second.
Favors had three assists tonight, and all three were to Kyle Korver for open corner threes after receiving passes from Ingles in the pick-and-roll. Favors isn’t even really looking at Korver when he makes some of these passes: he knows that the defender in front of him means that Korver is open.
It’s been a treat to see Favors develop in this way. It’s hard to remember, but when the Jazz acquired him, he was just 19 years old and nowhere near capable of making these kinds of wise plays. He had defensive potential, length, and an ability to finish around the rim, but didn’t have this decision-making knowledge. But eight years of development and playing time has made him into a really dangerous offensive weapon, especially against bench units.
If only he could hit that three ball.