The Triple Team: Jazz have the defensive switch on at key moments to finish 4-game road trip undefeated

Detroit Pistons forward Sekou Doumbouya (45) collides with Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) while driving to the basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, March 7, 2020, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 111-105 win over the Detroit Pistons from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz defense good enough in stretches

It’s clear that the Jazz have a defensive switch — maybe not one that they always have control of, but there’s an obvious difference between their best defensive efforts and their subpar ones. When the Jazz defend well, they’re a very good team. When they were most in danger of losing tonight, they flipped that switch and came away with the win.

In their good defensive stretches, I think they show real potential. They focus on threats well with bodies and quick rotations. This video from NBA.com picks up with the Jazz scrambling at the end of the shot clock, but Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale communicate on a switch, Bogdanovic closes out the dangerous shooter Svi Mykhailiuk, Donovan Mitchell comes over to make Mykhailiuk’s life tough on the drive. A better player might be able to find Brandon Knight here on the wing, but Conley’s playing center field on the weakside enough that it’s not a super easy read.

Of course, so much of the Jazz’s defensive success comes down to Rudy Gobert. Here, he terrifies the Pistons, turning a 2-on-1 into a really tough John Henson shot.

There were definitely stretches in which the defense was subpar. After allowing only 39 points in the first two quarters combined, the Jazz allowed 34 in the third and 32 in the fourth. That’s obviously not ideal. But given the back-to-back and the size of the lead the Jazz have, some energy deficiency was to be expected. The Jazz did well enough to win in the end, and showed their best basketball when the game was most on the line.

2. Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson scoring inside

Jordan Clarkson is 6-foot-4, 194 lbs. Bojan Bogdanovic is 6-foot-8, 216 lbs.

But I think both of them are very adept — and actually pretty similar — in the way they use their bodies to create space for themselves in the interior. Neither of them are that vertically athletic: certainly both can dunk, but scoring from above is not a major part of their game. Instead, it’s about bumping the opponent off balance, finding space, and finishing the shot.

Doesn’t this video, for example, feel like a typical Clarkson play? Clarkson’s signature might be a looping drive that somehow results in a pretty good look at a short-range easy floater. Bogdanovic uses his shoulder, pulls up at an unusual time, and creates space. That’s Clarkson’s typical move!

Meanwhile, here’s Clarkson with a straight line drive, one where he gets the shoulder into the defender and then finishes the layup anyway. That feels like a typical Bogey power layup!

Look, there are only a finite number of ways to score a basketball, and so perhaps it is not surprising that both Bogdanovic and Clarkson are capable of each other’s moves. But given the difference in body types, I think it’s interesting how both can be extremely effective with keeping the opponent off balance with their drives in similar ways.

3. Streaky Jazz movin’ on up

So the Jazz have won five in a row now, after losing four straight, after winning four straight, after losing five straight, after winning four straight. What?

It’s a little bit hard to make sense of. I think opponent strength has a lot to do with it: there is a significant gap between the mediocre teams of the world, like San Antonio and Phoenix, and the talent-deficient teams of the world, like Washington, Cleveland, New York, and Detroit. The Jazz beat Boston when they were missing two of their best players, not just one. Throw in a buzzer beater here and there, like the Jazz had against Houston, and you can get some anomalous streaks.

What continues to be worth watching is the struggles of the other teams in the Western Conference. Tonight, both Houston and Denver lost games to teams they really should be able to beat. Houston lost to the Charlotte Hornets and literally got out to a 20-0 deficit; they just spotted the home team a 20-point lead. And then Denver, after nearly losing to Charlotte on Thursday, ended up losing to the Cavs in Cleveland by two points Saturday.

The result is a more sunny Western Conference picture than at the beginning of the week. The Jazz are just one game back of the Nuggets, and while Denver will likely get the tiebreaker due to their more favorable conference record, the two teams play twice in April. If the Jazz win both games, they could leapfrog Denver entirely. Meanwhile, Houston is just a half game ahead of the brilliant Thunder, and it’s possible they could slip to sixth.

Two goals to keep track of here. First, the Jazz would really like to have home court advantage in the first round — it would actually be their first time with that advantage since 2001, believe it or not. Second, avoiding the Houston Rockets in the first round also seems ideal, given the Jazz’s incredibly rough recent history with that matchup. Unfortunately, that does seem like the most likely outcome at this point even now, but at least there are multiple plausible paths where Houston is avoided.

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