Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 102-98 win over the Chicago Bulls from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Rudy Gobert’s rim protection
The game was tied at 96 all with under 2 minutes left. Then, Rudy Gobert took over.
It is unusual for a center to do that. Even when a center is a team’s best player, it’s difficult to get them the ball down low reliably. It’s difficult to ensure that they can have a defensive impact, and it’s difficult to rebound because teams crash the boards more late. The famous game-winning plays in NBA history are typically from guards or forwards, not big men.
And in general, you might reasonably argue that some of the Jazz’s clutch problems in seasons past are because of this: the Jazz are less able to shift burdens onto their best players late because one of their best players is most effective when he has the ball in his hands for less than two seconds.
But because of how the Bulls were guarding pick and roll, Gobert got the chance to shine. Concerned with Joe Ingles’ new ability to shoot off that play, the Bulls trapped Ingles up high, which meant Gobert was open on the roll. They tried to rotate over, but with how much taller Gobert is than the help defenders, Chicago didn’t have much of a chance.
There is defense, though, and Gobert has been tremendous late in games on that end. After his dunk above, Gobert went back on defense on the next possession and prevented Zach Lavine from getting a basket.
After free-throws, the Bulls went down the court, missed a shot, and Gobert got the rebound, but was tied up. The Bulls got possession after the tip, and Gobert had one more block in him.
After that, you understand why they’re afraid to challenge Gobert at the rim, so the ball gets kicked out. Joe Ingles deflects the pass.
He just changes everything. Look at the Bulls’ shot chart tonight:
14 for 39! 36%! On shots right around the rim! It’s just wild.
“I don’t think anybody will ever realize how valuable he is to this team,” Georges Niang said. “We go as he goes.”
2. The bench was a plus
It’s been rare for the Jazz’s this season to be a plus this year; a quick perusal of box scores says that it’s happened about 6-8 times, depending on how you want to define the bench. Tonight was one of those times.
Perhaps more encouragingly, though, it wasn’t just one player doing the work; it was all four pieces of the Jazz’s bench contributing to a solid game.
Georges Niang, who has received some fair criticism recently, was terrific, scoring 11 points on 4-7 shooting from the field while playing solid defense from the four position. The stated reason — a reason I don’t find completely satisfying, but anyway — for Jeff Green’s waiver was so that Niang could play the four, rather than the three. That helps put him in better defensive positions, and he can space the floor offensively in the same way.
Emmanuel Mudiay shot 3-5, including two of his trademark midrange step-back jump shot that goes in way more than it should. But this was good Nash dribbling to set up his team with an easy basket.
When he’s a willing passer, he’s a solid player.
Jordan Clarkson scored 12 points on eight shots. He did have two consecutive turnovers, but other than that, so there was some bad with the good, but overall, he continues to push the bench towards being a capable scoring unit.
And then there was Tony Bradley, who I thought was terrific tonight. Bradley also took advantage of the Bulls’ trapping defense, but looked pretty fluid in his ability to catch, take a step, and finish at the rim. I’ve watched him work on that at least a dozen times after shootarounds and practices, and it looks like it’s paying off.
He also did the best job of rim protection that I’ve seen in his young career. That’s going to be his swing skill: if he can guard the rim in the NBA, he’ll stick. If he can’t, he won’t. So when he does stuff like this, it’s tremendously encouraging.
Bradley turns 22 next week. Even with six rookies on the roster, he’s still the youngest player. It’s been good to see him succeed since moving into the rotation. (More on that in an article tomorrow — stay tuned.)
3. Bojan Bogdanovic’s down, then up game
Bojan Bogdanovic struggled mightily through three quarter tonight. He had five turnovers, and only nine points on 3-9 shooting, including 0-4 from three. But he answered things in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points at crucial times, and ended up as the Jazz’s leading scorer in the game.
So what was the difference? How he attacked the Bulls. Four of Bogdanovic’s turnovers came from situations in which he was trying to create an advantage after being thrown the ball on the perimeter, but then either stepping out of bounds, committing an offensive foul, or throwing the ball into traffic.
Bogdanovic is a very good finisher, but he’s not a terrific blender motor. When he gets the ball, he’s not attacking quickly or athletically enough to really beat the defense, and so gets the ball stripped or ends up in tough situations. He turns the ball over more than Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, or Jordan Clarkson — but less than Emmanuel Mudiay, Royce O’Neale, or Joe Ingles. That feels about right.
So rather than using his prodigious offensive talents to create from drives, why not use it in other ways? Tonight, that was taking advantage of the Bulls guarding him with smaller defenders via the post-up, and Bogdanovic was able to either make the shots or get to the line.
I’ve had a saying on press row this year: “Every Bogey shot is a good shot.” While I mean it mostly facetiously, looking at the data, it’s remarkably close to true: the Jazz have a 53 eFG% on shots he takes in the last 4 seconds of the shot clock, he makes 41% of his pull-up 3s, and while his percentages go down, he’s frequently able to draw fouls when his defender is close. However, not every Bogey drive is a good drive.
While we’re riffing on Bogey, three Bogey truths:
1. He definitely has been worse in the last 12 games — since Conley’s been injured and his ballhandling duties have increased — shooting just 38% from the field while assists have gone down and turnovers up.
2. He’s still scoring 20 points per game anyway, 20.1 PPG in the last 12 while getting to the rim six times per game.
3. That level of consistency, and ability to contribute at a baseline level while he’s not playing his best, is really valuable.