Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 127-116 win over the Washington Wizards from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz figure out Washington’s defense, even without Mitchell
When Donovan Mitchell was announced out for the Jazz’s game Sunday afternoon against the Wizards, the question was whether or not the Jazz would be able to score enough without him.
And at first, it looked like they’d struggle. The Jazz only scored 23 points in the first quarter, and seemed like they couldn’t get the blender going. But they figured it out. They scored 32 in the second, 38 in the third, and 34 in the fourth to get the win. What changed?
Essentially, they figured out how exploitable the Wizards’ pick and roll defense was, and realized that there wasn’t a lot of rim protection down low. This play is a good example.
Bojan Bogdanovic is coming from the baseline, cuts tightly to go around Gobert, and realizes that Ian Mahinmi is sticking with Gobert. That means he has a relatively easy layup if he drives at him, in fact, it’s an and-one.
The Jazz had a sequence in the second quarter where they had four plays out of five described as “Driving Finger Roll Layups” by the NBA, from Bogdanovic and Ingles. That’s what happened: the Jazz realized that the Wizards were largely sticking to shooters outside, which meant they could start playing 2-on-2 pick and roll. Gobert is too good of a screener, and Mahinmi and Thomas Bryant aren’t strong enough defenders for the Wizards to handle that.
The Wizards sorta tried to adapt by helping or switching, but they weren’t very good at it. Either Ingles — who had nine assists — carved them up by finding the open man:
Or the help came too late, which let Rudy Gobert or Jordan Clarkson have a lot of joy around the rim.
The Wizards have been one of the league’s worst defensive teams over the course of the season, but they had improved in the past few weeks. But the Jazz, even without Mitchell, recognized what they were doing and took advantage of it. Sure, it took them a quarter, but that’s OK.
2. Quin Snyder flips the Rudy Gobert switch
Early in the game, the Wizards were getting nearly everything from midrange and in. This is a lot of midrange-y stuff for an NBA offense in 2020.
Usually, the Jazz are happy with that shot chart, but when the shots aren’t going in that much, you have to adapt. So they did. At halftime, Quin Snyder told Rudy Gobert to start playing higher on the pick and roll, even if that negated a switch, in order to get contests on some of the mid-range stuff.
Gobert, after a passive first half, was incredible defensively in the second. There’s just nobody else in the league that can make the kinds of plays he does in these situations, and it’s impressive. Oddly enough, I’m going to choose a Wizards make to illustrate this. Gobert has to stop the Wizards three times here, and it’s not really his fault no one helped him out on the rebound.
He ping pongs between the left and right side of the paint, successfully defending a two-on-one situation as Clarkson wildly overcommitted.
“Coach just came in the locker room at halftime and made an adjustment,” Emmanuel Mudiay said. “They were hitting a lot of comfortable mid-range shots, so we just went back to our principles and made Rudy a presence. That changed a lot.”
Gobert also forced airballed layups and floaters, picked up isolation guys and got blocks, got steals in pick and roll situations, I mean, it was really the whole package. He’s really, really good.
3. Jordan Clarkson is just clever
It wasn’t the absolute cleanest line for Jordan Clarkson, who scored 23 points on 10-22 shooting, with a couple of turnovers and assists. But his ability to score at that league-average rate kept the Jazz’s bench afloat, even growing the lead in the fourth quarter, as he found ways to take advantage of the Wizards defense.
Troy Brown Jr. is a young defender, but he’s not a terrible one. Clarkson just gets past him here, despite no real advantage to begin the play.
So you can see Brown thinking to himself, “OK, I have to stay in front on this possession.” And he does! All the way to the rim, where Clarkson just stops and pops it in over him.
Clearly, the Wizards needed to help to prevent Clarkson from scoring. But the best plays were Clarkson’s assists, where he found Gobert.
It’s certainly easier to score as a bench player, because you can take advantage of bench defenders. Clarkson has the tricks to make them look silly, and he’s been a big part of the Jazz’s turnaround. It’s not entirely or even mostly his doing that the Jazz are 9-0 since trading for him, but he’s certainly part of the improvement.