The Triple Team: Bogdanovic hits a game-winner to wrap up Rockets/Jazz chess match with a win

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) dribbles as Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 114-113 win over the Houston Rockets from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Bojan Bogdanovic can make some really tough shots

Bojan Bogdanovic made two shots tonight, that’s it. One was a three with four minutes to go. The second was this one:

I mean, holy cow, that’s a tough shot. Two defenders draped all over him — credit the Rockets for defending it well, switching and trapping on whoever caught the ball. And yet, Bogey’s shot went in, and it’s not particularly surprising that it did.

As a basketball analyst, I’m not particularly results-oriented. In general, good process leads to good results, but not all of the time. Sometimes, the Jazz play well and get a good shot, and it doesn’t go in.

But Bogdanovic seemingly broke that analysis. Early in his Jazz tenure, he was making enough of the silly stuff that I started to use the saying “Every Bogey shot is a good shot" to understand what was going on. No matter how tough the closeout, Bogdanovic seemingly has an ability to shoot over it. A side-step, or a turnaround, or a contested mid-ranger, all seemed to be within his wheelhouse. Feeding Bogey the ball was a pathway to efficient offense.

The funny thing is that I’m not sure that’s particularly true over the aggregate of the season, not statistically. He’s actually shooting just 26.9% from 16 feet to the 3-point line this season, just 34% from 10 to 16 feet. When defenders are within six feet of his threes, he’s shooting 33%, a pretty average number. Bogdanovic does have the one-dribble pumpfake three down — he shoots 40% on those — but overall, Bogey’s strongest number is his ability to hit the wide-open ones, where he hits 52%. And he takes them at a high volume, too.

"Every Bogey shot is a good shot” just has felt true over the course of this season. Maybe because it’s because of plays like tonight’s, where Bogdanovic has hit some bananas shots in humongous situations. That’s how our brains work — when it’s easy to remember the confirmation plays, it’s also easy to forget the misses.

There’s no doubt about this, though: Bogdanovic certainly can make some incredible shots. This one showed his skill at the very best, and at the perfect time.

2. Small ball vs. big ball chess match

I know people have traditionally not liked watching the Rockets over the past few years. Certainly, you can count me in that group: James Harden isos are relatively boring, an endless parade to the free-throw line is too, the Rockets play at a slow-as-molasses pace, and their defense just feels gimmicky, though it can be effective.

I’ll be honest: I think this micro-ball experiment makes them watchable again. Yes, there are still possessions where it’s just Harden going to work. But teams seem more willing to just double-team him now, speeding up the action. I honestly enjoy watching Russell Westbrook’s particular brand of insane effort all the time. No one’s vector is of a higher magnitude, even if its direction is often askew.

And then there’s just the chess match that follows when one team has no tall players and the other team wants to use a tall player. The Jazz obviously want to play Rudy Gobert, and so tonight, they started the game with Gobert guarding Westbrook. That makes sense: Westbrook doesn’t want to take threes because he’s shooting just 23% on them this year. So he’s not an outside threat, and then you’re just daring him to take mid-rangers. To Westbrook’s credit, he made a higher percentage than normal tonight.

So what did the Rockets do? They started to screen Gobert off of Westbrook, giving the league’s most smash-mouth attacking player a freer look at the rim. In particular, to make the play as hard as possible to defend, they had Harden set the screen — as you know, you don’t want to leave him open for a second.

1-2 pick-and-rolls are obviously rare, and difficult to defend. Even if the Jazz had either practice yesterday or shootaround this morning — they didn’t — I doubt they would have practiced this. And so it worked.

Obviously, Harden’s game was the other focus of the chess match. The Jazz sometimes doubled him sometimes didn’t, and were lucky to get a 2-13 3-point shooting performance from him. Still, Harden had a 28-point triple-double; he frequently found the open man on those doubles, he’s a great player.

But the Jazz were able to take advantage of him defensively, once he picked up his fifth foul. Then, counting on the Rockets’ switching defense, the Jazz had Harden’s man come up and screen for Donovan Mitchell, who then just toasted an afraid-to-foul-out Harden. The days of him being a defensive sieve are over, but Harden knows how important he is to his team offensively, and so he wanted to stay in the game.

This kind of back-and-forth makes the Rockets fun again, in my opinion. They have definite strengths and definite weaknesses, and watching each coach fight to impose their will on the game made for lots of intriguing subplots.

3. Jordan Clarkson’s selflessness

Jordan Clarkson scored 30 points in tonight’s game. No one on the Jazz is better at attacking a switching defense, getting all the way to the rim, and finishing. Tonight, Clarkson’s efficient 12-19 shooting performance was the standout, and he deserves a huge share of the credit for the win.

And yet, he wasn’t out there for most of the end of the game. From the 5:33 mark to the 28 second mark, Clarkson was out of the contest, sitting on the bench. It did look like Clarkson was just subbed out for a quick breather: he had played the previous 12 minutes, scoring 18 points in that stretch. He probably needed one.

So Jazz coach Quin Snyder called him from the bench to the scorers’ table at about the 4-minute mark of the fourth quarter after his minute-long rest. But in that minute and change, the Jazz went on a 7-0 run, grabbing a crucial lead. Snyder went up to Clarkson and asked him what he thought he should do.

“Let them rock,” Clarkson told Snyder.

“We were scoring, we were rotating defensively,” Clarkson explained after the game. “I did my role, played my minutes, tried to impact the game as much as I can. They had it going at that time, so I just told coach ‘Let them rock.’

"And he was like, ‘Cool,’” Clarkson reported.

Clarkson hasn’t exactly been known as a team-first guy throughout his career. He’s not a stellar passer, and the number one criticism of his game is his defense — a fair criticism, actually. He hasn’t been on winning teams, save for one half-season with LeBron. But that he saw his team doing well, and then cited defensive rotations as a reason why his bench stint made sense... that’s real maturity!

It makes sense Clarkson’s matured over the course of his career: he’s 27 now. Not every player does, though, and that he has has meant huge things for the Jazz’s bench units this year.