Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 111-106 win over the Atlanta Hawks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz get all the way to the rim for 4Q win
What are the best shots in basketball? As much as the analytic revolution has changed the game, dunks and layups are still the best shots you can get in the game. Tonight, the Jazz discovered — later than you’d hope they would have, but still — that they could get to the rim against the Atlanta Hawks at will, and once they flipped that switch, they scored enough to win the game.
Two of the critical layups came as the Hawks went small, putting notoriously poor defender Jabari Parker at center. Then, the Jazz just attacked.
Not everything came with Parker at center, though, and it was those moves that were most impressive. Donovan Mitchell was able to get all the way to the rim, being aggressive to get all the way down low to get easier looks.
We have a story coming out tomorrow about Mitchell’s desire to get all the way to the rim, and how he’s changing his game to try to accomplish that. I’m not sure the article could have come at a better time — and I can tell you that it doesn’t always work like that.
And then, of course, getting inside can open up 3-point looks. While this one by Royce O’Neale didn’t go down, it did lead immediately to a ferocious Rudy Gobert putback.
Overall, the Jazz took 43% of their shots at the rim tonight, their second-highest mark of the season. Again, a lot of that can probably be chalked up to playing a 28th-ranked Hawks defense! But their willingness to take advantage of it late won them the game, especially as the 3-ball wasn’t reliably falling.
2. Royce O’Neale and Rudy Gobert with defensive plays
Gobert had a tremendous impact in tonight’s game, forcing the Hawks into shooting only 14-29 at the rim. At first, I thought this was a poor play by DeAndre Hunter, but after watching the replay, he certainly had a step on Bojan Bogdanovic. But Rudy Gobert just rotated from the 3-point line to get the block, it’s an incredible play.
But the game was largely done at that point, thanks to earlier defensive plays from Gobert and great recovery work from Royce O’Neale. Here’s the two of them working together, with O’Neale recovering, sliding his feet, passing Trae Young to Gobert, and then recovering for the tipaway block.
This play by O’Neale was even better: stopping a two-on-one fast break with a well-timed poke.
Just awesome stuff. Of course, schemes are important, and the Jazz did good work funneling Young into Gobert all night, especially in the second half. But it also helps so much when your best defensive players turn two points into zero.
3. Still communication problems
I’ve covered the bench’s problems plenty, in fact, I have talked about them in the last five Triple Teams. They are still a problem: they were -11 in the 11 minutes Gobert sat, but losing a point a minute is now officially par for the course, and you guys will probably get bored of me talking about the same thing all the time.
So I’ll change topics to point out that the Jazz’s defense is still having surprising lacks of communication. And while many of those problems are happening with bench players involved, not all of them are.
Here’s one where Jeff Green and Joe Ingles can’t seem to figure out who has Young... which leads Green to just kind of linger in the paint as Hunter gets open for three. You can see the exasperation in Ingles’ expression.
But here, Gobert and Bogdanovic can’t figure out who has Young and who has Reddish, either.
I understand why everyone is so worried about Young: he is their biggest scoring threat, to be sure. But the game plan is not to leave their shooters open just to cover him, because he’s far too good of a passer for that.
And there were even times where it seemed like they forgot about Young, including on this critical fourth-quarter possession:
The Jazz got very, very lucky there.
I think most of the focus has been on the Jazz’s offensive struggles so far this season, which is reasonable. The bench is also easy to focus on. But the defense hasn’t been quite there either, and these problems of communication keep popping up more than you’d expect. Until they fix them, they won’t be an elite defense, even with Gobert and O’Neale’s heroics.