The Triple Team: Jazz pull out close game with 10-2 run late, despite short-term injuries to Mitchell, Favors, and Neto

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Jae Crowder (99) and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) react as they go into a time out with a 4 point lead late in the game, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Washington Wizards, in Salt Lake City, Friday, March 29, 2019.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 128-124 win over the Washington Wizards from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz pull out close game

You may have heard this scary-looking stat: the Jazz are 0-7 in games decided by 3 points or less. Yikes!

Here’s something closer to the truth, though: the Jazz are 5-7 in games in which the score was within 3 points in the last 10 seconds. If you want to extend that 10 seconds to a minute, they’re 7-9 in those games. And if you extend it to 5 minutes, the Jazz are 10-11 then.

So when Ricky Rubio was asked about how it was to finally win a close one, Rubio was confused by the premise of the question. “When it’s close and we win, we do a pretty good job and win by more than 3 points.”

And as he joked about, tonight’s game doesn’t really count as a close game. After all, they won by 4 points. “Maybe Donovan should have missed one at the end," Rubio laughed.

The Jazz could be better in those situations, and if they had been, they’d be closer to the top of the Western Conference. But 5-7 or 7-9 or 10-11 isn’t too bad, it’s just below what you’d expect on average.

Nevertheless, when the Wizards pulled out a 2-point lead with under three minutes to go, it was a scary time for Jazz fans. The Jazz responded with a 10-2 run, though. Here’s what I liked about what the Jazz did tonight on offense down the stretch: they stuck to their offensive game plan.

We’ve seen plenty of times when the Jazz have defaulted to Donovan Mitchell isoball down the stretch, and that’s certainly sometimes worked. But in my opinion, the Jazz are better off when they can go through their offense and force holes in the defense through execution, like here:

That’s great! But even though we can congratulate the Jazz for that, some of the biggest plays in the game were non-repeatable. For example, with two minutes left, Bradley Beal drove the lane, and appeared to get hit in the head as he was finishing the layup. The refs didn’t notice, Beal was dazed, and the Jazz took advantage of the 5-on-4 the other way by getting a Rubio 3. That’s not really execution, that’s luck that the officials didn’t call it.

I’m not trying to take away from the Jazz’s accomplishment tonight, but that’s the thing about close games late: a lot of them are decided by things out of your control. The Warriors are playing .600 ball in close games this year, the Atlanta Hawks have a .615 winning percentage. Ideally, you avoid those close games by having a big enough margin by the time that you get to the end that a missed call or a missed shot doesn’t decide the game.

2. The impact of Favors and Neto

Derrick Favors and Raul Neto both missed the second half of tonight’s game with minor injuries: Favors again experienced back spasms after playing 9:16 in the first quarter, while Raul Neto got hit in the head in the second quarter, causing a lip laceration that required three stitches and some concussion-like symptoms that required that he be pulled later in the game. Even Mitchell missed time with an eye contusion, but he returned relatively quickly.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising that the Jazz gave up a 13-0 Wizards run during the stretch of the game when Favors and Neto were supposed to be in there. Interestingly, Snyder subbed in Rudy Gobert for this stretch and even Mitchell for the final minute of the third quarter, but neither seemed to impact what the Wizards did offensively or defensively.

Meanwhile, Thabo Sefolosha struggled in some of the minutes that were opened up for him. I think you can even see the grimace on his face as he throws this pass, that is “pick-sixed” for a Wizards score. On the other hand, the Niang minute at the end of the third wasn’t inspiring either.

You also got the sense that there were matchups that might have been better suited for those two, especially Favors. I wonder if Bobby Portis or Jabari Parker would have found as much success if Favors could have been out there to mark them, rather than the do-everything defense of Gobert.

That’s the thing about the Jazz’s unofficial team motto “the strength of the team is the team," it’s probably only really true for about 9-10 guys this season. That’s probably deeper than most teams feel comfortable with, but the difference between the playing Jae Crowder and Sefolosha or Niang feels palpable at the moment.

3. Free throws mattered

The Jazz went 18-18 from the free-throw line tonight, while the Wizards went 13-22. If the Jazz shoot their normal percentage, they hit 13 free throws and maybe lose. Likewise, if the Wizards shoot 77 percent from the line, they tie the game and perhaps send it to overtime. The free-throw gods smiled on the Jazz tonight.

18 free throws really aren’t that many, especially when you consider that the Wizards had two technical fouls and also gave the Jazz six freebies at the end while they were trying to come back. Taking those out, the Jazz only got to the line 10 times. Funnily enough, last week when they played the Wizards, they only shot six free throws: something about their defense doesn’t seem to foul the Jazz very often. Maybe, given the 120 offensive rating for the Jazz tonight, it’s that they don’t play much physical defense at all.

The Jazz haven’t been very good at converting their free throws this season: they only make 73.4% of them, good for 26th in the league. But they’ve been phenomenal at drawing free throws: they’re fourth in the league with 25.1 free throw attempts per 100 possessions.

That last stat turns out to be the much bigger deal, actually, as the Jazz’s limited free-throw percentage only puts them down to eighth in the league in free throw makes. But it would be nice if Gobert, Ingles, and Crowder, especially, reverted to their best free-throw shooting seasons. It might be worth about a point a game or so.