The Triple Team: In response to OKC defensive pressure, Jazz don’t move the ball, resulting in bad loss

Utah Jazz's Jordan Clarkson (00) shoots around Oklahoma City Thunder's Nerlens Noel, right, and Darius Bazley, left, during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 110-94 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz guards can’t handle OKC defensive pressure

Oklahoma City is a good team, with three very talented point guards in Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Dennis Schroder. They also have two elite defensive guards in Lu Dort and Andre Roberson. So coming into the game, we knew this would be a strong test for Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, and Emmanuel Mudiay, to break down that defensive pressure and score.

Boy oh boy, did they ever fail that test. What ended up happening was pretty selfish basketball, a my-turn your-turn circus of dribbling and late shot clock prayers. The Jazz were slow to make decisions, made poor decisions when they did, and looked so awful that they earned national media criticism throughout the night.

They played with blinders on. This is Mitchell’s third shot of the night. Shot clock is running down, but passes up his own open shot and a simple swing pass to Joe Ingles who has an open three. Instead, Mitchell drives into traffic and gets swatted easily.

Here’s another one; this time, I’m going to link to the video and insert a still image. Mitchell gets a good advantage here, then drives into the paint. Steven Adams steps up, and the Thunder defense collapses.


Literally every other Jazzman is open, all five Thunder players are in the paint. Mitchell has a delightful buffet of options here: the lob to Rudy Gobert, the short kickout to Joe Ingles, one of the league’s best corner 3-point shooters, the long pass to Mike Conley, good shooter, or even, if he wants to make it tough, the turn and throw to Georges Niang, also a good 3-point shooter.

He does none of them. He doesn’t take the floater, either, so that’s good. He backs it out and takes a baseline 17-footer, which misses.

Remember when the Jazz beat the Thunder in a playoff series three years ago? They did that by taking advantage of Oklahoma City’s aggressive defense, getting open shot after open shot. When they collapse, it’s time to move the ball. Instead, the Jazz ballhandlers just kept it. At one point, I started trying to keep track of how often an open 3-point shooter had his hands up asking for the ball only to be ignored, and quickly gave up on that idea: it happened almost every possession.

Now, I do think it’s reasonable to say that some of this was due to it being the Jazz’s second game back. They haven’t faced a defense as aggressive as this, and probably lacked some of the cohesion that they’ve shown at times this year. When the Jazz move the ball, and decisions are quick and sharp, the offense is beautiful. That wasn’t the case at all tonight.

2. On Jordan Clarkson

Jordan Clarkson had the worst game of his young Jazz career, going 4-17 from the floor, getting only 11 points.

He ended up with a -14 Saturday after getting a -15 on Thursday. I didn’t think the first game plus-minus was his fault, but rather was due to the underperforming Mudiay, Georges Niang, and Tony Bradley. (Those guys underperformed Saturday too, by the way. The Jazz’s bench is... not good.)

But this time, Clarkson showed some of his worst tendencies, almost looking like a parody of himself at times. This was his last shot.

Clarkson passed up a three to attack the paint and airball a wild double-covered, double-clutch push layup with 15 seconds on the shot clock.

Look, the Jazz need Clarkson’s scoring off the bench, so him being aggressive is usually a good thing. But on that opportunity, Mitchell, Conley, Ingles, and Gobert were all out on the floor with him. Get a better shot than that, especially after making only four of your last 16 shots.

If that were the only shot like that, I’d spare him the complaint, but Clarkson absolutely dribbled the air out of the ball, using precious shot clock seconds to maneuver around the floor. Attack, move the defense, and find the open man. Easier said than done, but the attempt needs to be made.

3. Stop throwing the ball low to Rudy Gobert

If the ball is below Gobert’s waist, he’s probably not going to catch it.

Low passes are tough for any big, but Gobert is particularly bad at it. He does have poor hands down low, and he’s always expecting the pass high. That’s partially because he’s been coached to do so, partially because he’s a 7-foot-1 physical freak. He needs to be ready to do stuff with his hands high, not low.

So the Jazz’s guards need to work around that limitation. Throwing bounce passes at his knees, for example, isn’t going to work.

This play actually has two turnovers in one: another attempted bounce pass to Gobert, and then a chucked no-looked one-hander to his left at the waist. The second could have been a nice dish if it was on target, but it surprised Gobert.

Compare that to Mitchell’s game-winning assist yesterday. That pass had less on it, was higher, and was one Gobert could catch and finish easily. But low passes, especially with a lot of velocity, aren’t going to work with the tall, lanky Frenchman.