Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 96-95 win over the Phoenix Suns from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. I can’t emphasize enough that you’re supposed to lose sloppy games like this
Here’s an imaginary conversation between a statsheet robot with info on tonight’s game and an indefatigable Jazz optimist, one who believes the Jazz can win in any circumstance.
Statsheet Robot: The Jazz had 23 turnovers tonight.
Jazz Optimist: Yeah, but turnovers aren’t super highly correlated with winning! If the Jazz shot well in their other possessions, they can make up for the turnovers on the other possessions where they get good shots.
Statsheet Robot: The Jazz shot 38% from the floor, and just 32% from three.
Jazz Optimist: Yeah, but you know, a star scoring can carry any team. Look at the early 2000s Philadelphia 76ers, a team with Allen Iverson and a bunch of chumps around him got to the NBA Finals! I bet Donovan Mitchell played well!
Statsheet Robot: Donovan Mitchell had his least efficient game of the season, going 9-24 from the field with three turnovers.
Jazz Optimist: If Donovan Mitchell’s not scoring well, I bet the other team was putting a lot of pressure on the perimeter. Enter Rudy Gobert dunks!
Statsheet Robot: Rudy Gobert made only two shots. He took only four shots.
Jazz Optimist: Maybe the veteran bench picked up the slack against an inexperienced opponent?
Statsheet Robot: The bench scored only 19 points, was outscored 32-19. The Jazz lost the 10 minutes in which Ed Davis played by 12 points.
Jazz Optimist: :-(
But no, the Jazz somehow won this game! They did it by having another simply remarkable defensive performance, having Bojan Bogdanovic play an incredibly efficient game, and getting to the line more than any team in any NBA game this season.
They also did it in the clutch. Last year, the Jazz were 4-18 in games where they were behind by five points or less in the game’s final five minutes. That was by far the worst record in the league. Now, they’re 2-0. This one was a little more lucky than the opening day win, where the Jazz ran away with it in the end. This relied on Kelly Oubre missing an open corner three with 10 seconds left.
Still, the Jazz won a game where they gave a mile by taking a mile and an inch right back. It seemed impossible, but they did it.
2. Bojan Bogdanovic is just so skilled, so versatile
Bogdanovic had an extraordinary game in which he was the best player on the floor: 29 points on just 8-13 shooting from the field, 4-8 from the 3-point line, 9-9 from the free-throw line. I will note that he had five turnovers, but he also had two assists, two steals, and a block. (By the way, Bogdanovic only had one block all season last year. His career high is nine, from his rookie year.)
Again, notable was just how many different ways he scored. Data from Synergy Sports has 22 possessions attributed to Bogdanovic in Monday’s game. Seven of them were transition scoring opportunities. Six times, he caught the ball in spot-up situations from his teammates and shot or created. Five times he came off of off-ball screens to take a shot. Five of them were pick-and-roll plays — twice, he was single covered on pick-and-roll, then the Suns started committing for the other three plays. Once, he was the roll man. Once, he used a dribble handoff. Once, he got a pass after an offensive rebound to try an open shot.
That’s a lot of different ways to score. Bogdanovic is capable of all of them at a high level. This is something we knew when the Jazz signed him, but it’s still wildly impressive to see it at work. This is obvious, but without Bogdanovic, the Jazz don’t win this game; heck, they don’t even come close.
3. Rudy Gobert’s free-throw game
Rudy Gobert was 8-8 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. He went 11-12 for the game.
After the game, a reporter — not me, I promise — was talking with Gobert about how the Jazz needed all of those free throws. Gobert responded essentially with a “Well, duh, we won by one point” along with a smile.
As obvious as it is, Gobert’s solid free-throw shooting really was the difference tonight. Gobert drew those fouls in his typical variety of off-ball actions: fouls as the defender tries to get around screens, fouls as smaller rebounders tie Gobert up in desperation, and fouls stopping Gobert from rolling to the rim. And on all of those loose-ball fouls, Gobert stepped up to the stripe and made the free-throws calmly and cooly.
He swished every single one, like he’s Steph Curry now.
Before we start giving Gobert ideas, this hasn’t been his best offensive start in other ways. He committed five turnovers tonight, and still looks awkward when he catches the ball far from the hoop. There are times where he’s not strong with his decision making. But after starting 1-4 for the season from the stripe, the 11-12 performance tonight should bring him some confidence.