Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 114-106 win over the Golden State Warriors from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. The Subway Sub of the Game, and what it says about the bench
The closest Subway to Vivint Arena has a two-star rating on Yelp. In the last year, they have been reviewed eight times, and have received one star seven times and three stars one time. At their best, in the three-star review, they overcharged the customer, but made a decent sandwich.
At their worst (all other seven reviews), they either made sandwiches wrong, played the music too loud, ignored customer requests, or were generally regarded as rude. But my favorite review was about how they took 20 minutes — at Subway! — to make a sandwich.
Tonight’s Subway Sub of the Game at Vivint Arena was Jeff Green. Green scored five points on 1-8 shooting from the field, had one rebound, zero assists, one turnover, and two fouls. In his 16:14 on the court, the Jazz were outscored by 18 points by the bench of a team that has a 5-22 record and had just lost to the Knicks. And somehow, this was the guy that a reasonable case could be made for having the most positive impact off the bench.
Like Geoffrey V., the customer with my favorite review, I too waited for 20 minutes for something good to happen from the bench at the Jazz game tonight. It did not.
There are games — maybe about one in eight, just like Subway — where the Jazz’s bench does something positive. They certainly did against Minnesota on Wednesday! But the numbers for their impact overall for the season are clear: when the bench guys are in, the Jazz turn from pretty good to very bad in a hurry.
The Jazz’s bench were outscored by the Warriors’ bench 52-12. When the starters were in, the Jazz were +25, when any other lineup was in, they were -17.
Utah got away with a win tonight, because they were playing the worst team in the NBA. Against other teams, they wouldn’t be so lucky.
2. The Warriors played this high-trap defense that made no sense
The Warriors played this unusual-in-2019 strategy in which, every time Donovan Mitchell used a screen, they’d send both players out to the ball-handler, to try to take the ball from Mitchell. Mitchell is capable of making bad decisions, but he usually does it on the move. When he’s trapped, he’s certainly capable of finding the release valve.
So you get possessions like this, where the Warriors double Mitchell, and he makes the easiest possible pass to O’Neale. Then, the Jazz can just swing the ball and hit the wide-open Bojan Bogdanovic.
I’m not sure what this was, but they also doubled Emmanuel Mudiay here. What is Marquese Chriss doing here? Why is he leaving the most dangerous wide-open shooter in the NBA this season wide open?
Steve Kerr is a smart person, so I have two theories on why he used this strategy. The first was was that, concerned that the Warriors would accidentally win this game, he made his team choose a losing strategy in order to win. The second is that he wanted his team to practice help and recover, which the trap certainly makes you do.
Anyway, Bogdanovic tied the Jazz franchise record tonight by hitting eight threes. He ties Randy Foye, Rodney Hood, and Jeff Hornacek by doing so. What a list.
3. Royce O’Neale’s screen navigation
I think screen navigation might be the most important defensive skill for a perimeter defender to have in today’s NBA. With so many screens per possession, a defensive player’s ability to stay connected through multiple screens is the difference between a good defensive possession and two points.
Check this play out by Royce O’Neale. Willie Cauley-Stein tries to screen him three times, two off ball, one on. Each time, O’Neale slides with Alec Burks, staying connected throughout. On the third screen, frustrated that he wasn’t able to get any separation on his previous two screens, Cauley-Stein tries to cheat a little with a wider-than-normal screen, and gets called for a foul.
That’s not whistled if O’Neale tries to go under that on-ball screen, but he knows that if he does, Burks is capable of hitting the midrange shot. They’d rather filter Burks to Gobert, where the DPOY can do his work.
This is an old clip, but it’s one of my favorite defensive possessions of all-time. O’Neale navigates screens by going under, then over, then switches twice to stay with the play. It’s a 24-second masterclass of defense.
O’Neale, a restricted free agent at the end of the season, is going to get paid big money. He’s an excellent role player, defending very well and adding the ability to hit the three at a high rate as well.