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The Triple Team: On a one-in-a-million final night in the NBA, the Jazz learned they’ll play the Rockets, while Grayson Allen scored 40 points

Utah Jazz guard Grayson Allen, right, shoots as Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 143-137. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 143-137 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. A series of unfortunate events

It’s honestly one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen. Jazz broadcast assistant Conner Varney wrapped it all up, I thought: In order for the Jazz to play Portland, the Jazz just needed one of these things to happen.

  • Minnesota to win a game that they were up 11 in, with 3:27 left in the game. Win probability at that point: 98.7%.

  • Sacramento to win a game they were up 25 with 8:35 left in the third quarter. Win probability at that point: 98.2%

  • Don’t forget yesterday’s games! With Houston up 14 in Oklahoma City with 9:26 left in the 4th, they had a 96.1% win probability. There was also a 97.5% chance of Houston winning that game when they had the ball, up four points, with 30 seconds left.

  • Oh, and then the Lakers were up 3 on Portland with 1:47 left in the fourth last night. They had a 79.4% chance of winning then.

Those are 1 in 898,957 odds. Nearly one in a million.

I mean, how does that happen? I want to put particular emphasis on the absurdity of the Portland result: the Blazers had decided to lose that game, so they played six players all game long, their very worst. They were down by 28 at the half and were trying to lose. They won.

If you’re looking for someone to blame, blame Kings coach Dave Joerger, who decided it was safe to pull his starters at halftime of that game, thinking that they could keep a 28-point lead against the worst players on the Blazers’ roster. They could not.

Blame Chris Paul, who took a wild shot at the end of that Rockets possession with 30 seconds left. Or blame the whole Rockets defense, who somehow allowed the ball to get to Paul George, OKC’s only dangerous shooter, without a timeout or a play being called.

Blame the Wolves for collapsing in such a fashion, giving up a 12-0 run right when it seemed like they were actually going to be able to pull off an upset.

Blame me. I booked my hotel in Portland at halftime of their game, because, again, Portland was down 28 and was trying to lose. I thought that was safe. I jinxed this.

2. Anyway, the Jazz play Houston now

Is that *that* much worse than playing the Blazers from a Jazz perspective? I do think it’s significantly worse: this Blazers team showed some real weaknesses in last year’s playoffs, things that Quin Snyder and the Jazz could have copied. Enes Kanter is obviously exploitable on defense, but so are Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Keeping Lillard and McCollum in check would have been a challenge, one that the Jazz might have failed at, but I think the offense would have been much more effective.

But I will say this: I think the Jazz will be more challenging for the Rockets than last season. I don’t think it’s because of their relative health: I don’t know how effective Ricky Rubio will be, as he hasn’t really been a plus in any of their four matchups this year, and doesn’t seem like a great fit against the Rockets’ switching defense. And of course, losing Dante Exum is a blow.

My reason for some optimism is this: last year, the Jazz’s strategy on James Harden largely worked, and in each game, he took a smaller and smaller role, missing more and more shots. It was really Chris Paul who saved them, but this season, he hasn’t been as effective. Whether it be due to injury or age, Paul’s shooting about 4% worse than last year.

And, there’s no Trevor Ariza, who did a pretty effective job on Donovan Mitchell all series long. Mitchell’s gotten a little bit better at dealing with rim protectors like Clint Capela. Rudy Gobert’s gotten a little bit better at defending in space and in switches, and is doing a better job of contesting the midrange this year.

Here’s the bad news: the Rockets have won 20 of their last 24 games. Two of those four losses were by one point, one was by two points. The big loss was by 14 points, and that was to the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks. They’re so, so good right now.

But still: this is the challenge that the Jazz have been planning for since the offseason. Quin Snyder pretty meticulously scouted how to attack switching defenses, how to play differently against the Rockets. The Jazz shouldn’t be favored, certainly, the Rockets should be. But I think it will be a fight.

We’ll have much more coverage on this in the days to come.

3. Tonight’s game

I feel like I’m not doing guys like Grayson Allen, Georges Niang, and Tony Bradley much of a service by only having one point of the Triple Team be about the actual game, but this game was the fourth-most interesting game to them of the night. That much was clear from their rotations and players available early on.

But still, Grayson Allen scored 40 points in a game where the Clippers played an NBA-adjacent rotation! And admittedly, that rotation knew that this game didn’t matter at all, but still, even if it were a pickup game on concrete, that’d be pretty impressive.

“It’s awesome for (my G-League teammates) and us all to get the opportunity to play out there in an NBA game with extended minutes," Allen said. "They did really well too. They showed that they can play and have talent.”

Really, it must have been cool for guys to get a chance to cap off their season by getting a chance to show what they can do on ESPN. Imagine how excited Tony Bradley’s family must be, after a season of watching his games on Twitch and elsewhere online, to be able to watch him play, and play reasonably well on ESPN.

Well, Bradley will tell you.

“It felt surreal. It felt like NBA2K or something in MyPlayer,” Bradley said.

That’s what the whole night felt like, actually: something that couldn’t happen in real life. It did. Game 1 comes Sunday.

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