Los Angeles • Basketball has three phases.
The Jazz this season clearly have a terrific defense, one of the best of this era. Offense has been a struggle at times, but they do have an absolute dynamo in Donovan Mitchell, who looks capable of taking over any game.
Rebounding, though? That’s gone missing.
That was the story of the Jazz’s loss to the L.A. Clippers on Sunday night, 105-94. One game after the Jazz lost to the Kings because they couldn’t grab a board, it felt like deja vu against a more talented Clippers team. With the same issue, they found the same result.
By the time the dust had settled, the Clippers had picked up 18 offensive rebounds in the game, next to Utah getting only six. And worse, the second-chance points spread was 29-8. In other words, nearly every single one of those Clippers boards resulted in free points for their team.
“The biggest thing was the defensive glass. It’s too much to overcome if we’re not getting rebounds,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We can have a really good possession defensively, and if we don’t secure the ball, it’s wasted.”
The contest was another slow, defensive, muddy affair. The halftime score was just 41-39 in favor of the Jazz, as neither team could score. The Clippers started the game just 1 of 15 from the 3-point line, though the end result wasn’t much better: They made only seven of their 32 threes in the game. Some of that could be attributed to Jazz defensive pressure, but the Clippers just missed some open looks, too.
Meanwhile, the Jazz’s offense stagnated. Turnovers weren’t the issue this time — their 14 Sunday night is about in line with NBA averages. But the still don’t have any fluidity on offense: Every action takes a beat longer than it should, open shots frequently get turned down for worse ones, and there’s not a lot of chemistry between the new players and the old ones.
That’s especially true for Mike Conley, who had another poor performance as he gets used to his new team. He finished with just eight points (on 2-of-10 shooting), one assist, one rebound, and had five turnovers to boot in his 35 minutes on the court. With Emmanuel Mudiay hurt, though, he was the only point guard to play; Joe Ingles handled the backup ballhandler minutes.
Rudy Gobert picked up his fourth foul at the 4:23 mark of the third quarter, which meant critical moments for third-year center Tony Bradley. The 21-year-old, the youngest player on the Jazz performed pretty well in those extra 14 minutes, though: He scored eight points, added five rebounds.
But there have been two reliable offensive stalwarts for the Jazz this season: Bojan Bogdanovic and Donovan Mitchell. The former played well again Sunday night, getting 19 points and four assists, even though he missed a few he could have made.
Mitchell, though, was electric. He finished with a game-high and season-high 36 points on 11-of-21 shooting from the field. He got to the line over and over again in the fourth quarter — for the game, he had 14 free-throw attempts. He was the brightest light in an otherwise dark game.
“I did all right,” Mitchell said. “I think I was aggressive when I needed to be, made the right passes. But the thing I’m thinking about is that we have to rebound, the turnover at the end, the missed shot at the end, and the missed switch. It’s the little things that pushed the Clipper lead from three to seven.”
Up until the ball is in the air, playing the Jazz right now is a little like pulling teeth. But once that ball is on the glass, it’s like taking candy from a toothless baby.