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The Triple Team: Antetokounmpo scored 50 points, and the Jazz couldn’t really do more to defend him

Utah Jazz's Donovan Mitchell (45) shoots against Milwaukee Bucks' Brook Lopez during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 122-118 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Giannis the great

I just don’t know what more the Jazz could have done with Giannis Antetokounmpo, without Rudy Gobert out there. Mike Conley probably put it best postgame, when asked if there was anything the Jazz could have done better against the reigning MVP.

"I doubt it,” Mike Conley said. “We threw everything at him. We threw everybody at him. We used double teams. He made plays out of the post. He got to the free-throw line. When he started making the long-range shot, it really makes it tough. I was proud of the way we defended.”

Let’s start with the basics: a Giannis driving layup. Seems like this play should have been defended better, right?

But then you slow it down, and you realize: "Holy cow. He picked up the ball with his right foot 20 feet away from the basket...

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...and put up the shot with his right foot 4 feet away from the basket...

... and didn’t come close to traveling. I mean, what? That’s incredible. And how do you defend that? Antetokounmpo releases the ball right at the backboard, so it’s not like Tony Bradley has a chance to block it.

Okay, here’s an idea: what if you don’t let him rev up like that? Send help early, so he doesn’t have room to take those gigantic steps?

They even helped from both wings there, so Antetokounmpo couldn’t do either his two-gigantic-steps move or his spin move back the other way. But that means three people are guarding Giannis, so two people are wide open. And remarkably, this actually was a really effective strategy for a whole half, when the Bucks forgot how to shoot. Then they remembered, and it was less effective, and yet still better than Giannis’ dunks.

And sometimes, you can defend it perfectly, force a tough shot from the MVP, and he’s still just going to get the offensive rebound anyway because he is much taller and longer than anyone you have on the floor.

Gobert could have helped in two ways. With his length, the Jazz could have only helped with him, rather than with two players from either side. That probably would have meant fewer Giannis assists. And then, of course, there’s Gobert’s rebounding. Nobody in the NBA is better at defending a shot and then getting in rebounding position, and it could have saved some of those second chances.

Still, though. The Jazz were shorthanded, but that was a masterclass. That was like a 8th grader playing against a bunch of 4th graders. But that’s what Giannis is: a superhuman. A Greek Freak.

2. Donovan’s last play

And yet, thanks to the friendly 3-point variance the Jazz had tonight, making 47% of their threes while the Bucks only made 32%, the Jazz were in this game at the end. With 19 seconds left, Donovan Mitchell got the ball and had a chance to win it.

Mitchell explained what he was thinking on that play: “Bojan just hit one, so try to get him to slip and get a three. I just made a floater.”

So basically, they’re going to run a play where Bogdanovic slips the screen, and try to get him a three that wins the game. If they defend that, Mitchell is going to attack the inside, either for a floater or a layup.

Mitchell makes the correct read on option No. 1: Bogdanovic isn’t really open, and their defense puts a lot of attention on stopping him. So Mitchell drives and is thinking about a layup or floater for himself. Pat Connaughton’s swipe at the ball means that Mitchell has to pick up the ball around the free-throw line, though, so he has to go for the finger roll from six or so feet away. Brook Lopez was rotating over, and blocked the shot.

Thanks to that rotation though, if you run it back, Mitchell does have Jeff Green in the corner, open for a potential game-winning 3-point shot.

Mitchell is a phenomenal player, but it’s only the best of the best that can make two reads in one second like that. He did absolutely the right thing on the first one, used his athletic abilities to get open, the defense collapsed, and he missed the toss out. That’s because it’s an exceptionally tough play, and Lopez made an exceptionally good play to block the shot.

As a side note, I really liked that the Jazz went with no timeout on this play, because the defense was on its heels. If a timeout is called there, I think help is coming from an unusual place to surprise Mitchell. Instead, he gets penetration, which is hard to acquire if the defense is loading up to prevent it. I also liked that they called a quick play with a 3-point shot — Bogdanovic slipping the screen — as the first option. The Bucks defended it well, but going for the chance to win feels like the right decision, on the road against a great opponent like Milwaukee.

3. First play goals

Here was the Jazz’s first play tonight:

Basically, there’s a whole bunch of Mitchell and Mike Conley related misdirection up at the top, which serves to make sure Giannis is focused on that, rather than the fact that Bogdanovic is coming around the baseline to set a sneaky screen on him to get Royce O’Neale free. The surprise means that the Bucks are late in communicating the switch. Conley is even watching over to his left, but he knows the timing of this play, and fires a bullet to O’Neale in the corner. He nails the open three.

I’ve written before about how some of the best plays the Jazz run are their opening play, usually prepared in that day’s shootaround. They want to start the game with an open look. And Quin Snyder and even Conley have been making a point that they want to see O’Neale shoot the ball more, so this accomplishes both goals.

In the end, O’Neale shot six threes tonight, making three of them. His average stays above 50 percent. And that six 3PA total is, believe it or not, a season high. Getting him confidence early seemed to be effective in making him take more shots, all of which the Jazz needed.

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