Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 106-104 win over the New Orleans Pelicans from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Donovan Mitchell takes over late, including assist to Rudy Gobert

The game looked unsalvageable.

Okay, that’s a little strong. But down 16 in the first half and still seven midway through the fourth quarter, the game wasn’t exactly in the Jazz’s favor. At their lowest point in the fourth, the Jazz had just an 8.6% chance to come back and win the game, according to Inpredictable.

They did. And it was Donovan Mitchell’s scoring that turned the tide, followed by one late pass to Rudy Gobert to break the final deadlock.

I thought Mitchell showed some real poise in those final minutes: making the right read, drawing contact to get to the line, and generally taking what the defense gave him.

My favorite play was this out of bounds play drawn up by Quin Snyder, which got Mitchell the ball in the corner. Mitchell, knowing Jrue Holiday is an aggressive — and usually effective — defender, pumpfaked after catching the ball, jumping into him for three free throws.

It’s not the best camera angle, but the most revealing part is Mitchell’s smile after. That ability to draw free throws is something he’s been working at for a long time, something that doesn’t always come naturally to him. In a big situation, he tricked a terrific defender. Two minutes later, he dragged his arms into Ingram’s, drawing the foul there to give the Jazz another lead.

But the play that will be on all of the highlight reels was the game-winning assist. Mitchell breaks Holiday down with a behind the back dribble (impressive), then makes a perfect dish to Gobert. To his credit, Gobert catches the ball, jumps high over Favors and draws the obvious foul. He swished both free throws.

As Mitchell said, that pass reflected two points of development: both in making the right read in clutch situations and his relationship with Gobert.

“Hopefully that kinda stops y’all from talking about it! At the end of the day, we’re basketball players trying to go out there and make the right plays,” Mitchell said. “He did a hell of a job today.”

“I tried to find my way and find guys getting open,” he continued. “For me, at the end of the game, it’s about making the right read. I told you I’m trying to become a better passer, a better playmaker as a whole, and just being able to do that in that situation just shows the steps I’m trying to make.”

Look, one pass on national TV doesn’t repair everything. But it does show that this partnership can work, and winning will help that process along, too.

Gobert had his own great quote. When asked about whether scoring the first and last points of the first game back since his positive test shut down the league was meaningful to him, Gobert was philosophical:

“Life works in mysterious ways.”

2. Bench was poor

It is good that the Jazz’s starting lineup salvaged everything, because the bench minutes were pretty abysmal. That second quarter 16-point deficit was actually after the starters had gotten out to a 19-8 beginning. After that, the Jazz allowed the Pelicans to double them up, scoring 52 to Utah’s 25 points.

We know that the Jazz’s bench has been a weakness all season long. This is a graph from PBPStats.com of the Jazz’s net rating and number of possessions by how many starters they have on the floor. When they have all five starters on, they’re a terrific team. Every other time, they’re middling to poor.

Red reflects the Jazz outscoring their opponent, while blue reflects the opposite. https://www.pbpstats.com/number-of-starter-stats-by-team/nba?Season=2019-20&SeasonType=Regular%2BSeason

Go ahead and scroll through the rest of the league. You’ll see that the Jazz have the biggest discrepancy between their five-man starting units and the rest of the minutes out of any team in the NBA.

That trend continued tonight. Jordan Clarkson started pretty slowly but ended up finding a groove late, so I’m not sure that he really belongs in this conversation. But all of Emmanuel Mudiay, Georges Niang and Tony Bradley showed their faults as NBA players while not being able to highlight their strengths.

In particular, Mudiay took only two shots: two open but rushed and off-balance three-point shots. He’s most effective in the mid-range and in, but he wasn’t able to do that tonight. Meanwhile, he was lost on defense, allowing J.J. Redick open threes in transition.

Niang looked slow defensively, giving up and-ones and also being burned going around screens. It’s an acceptable trade-off if he’s able to make shots, but if he goes 0-6 and 0-3 from deep, it’s all negative.

Bradley’s NBA skill is his rebounding, but he got beaten to a few rebounds tonight, including one off a missed free-throw. Now, in his defense, he did get three offensive rebounds. Also in his defense, his defense left something to be desired.

The Jazz don’t have a lot of options at these positions. Sure, I guess Jarrell Brantley or Juwan Morgan could play those minutes. But as much as those guys don’t necessarily feature the negative that Niang and Bradley do, their positives aren’t as strong either. When Niang’s shot is going, he’s a legitimate microwave off the bench, spacing things so Clarkson can go to work. Bradley’s big screens allow the Jazz’s offense to operate: Morgan just isn’t as effective at that.

In the end, I think it’s going to have to be improvement from Mudiay, Niang and Bradley if the Jazz’s bench is going to be passable for the next two months.

3. Jazz transition vs. half court

Some stats for you from tonight’s game, courtesy CleaningTheGlass:

https://cleaningtheglass.com/stats/game_detail?game=82089273

What big splits! On offense, the Jazz were way more comfortable in the halfcourt, while not getting anything in transition. That’s a little bit discouraging, as Quin Snyder had talked about pushing the pace. I felt like that 62.5 number would have been improved if the Jazz could have hit transition threes, though, so there’s something to build on there. Meanwhile, 98.9 offensive rating in halfcourt is perfectly acceptable, just a little above league average.

Meanwhile, the Jazz’s halfcourt defense locked down in a major way. I thought this was especially notable in the fourth quarter, when the Pelicans looked frightened to enter the paint.

On six consecutive fourth quarter possessions, the Jazz got a halfcourt stop: an Ingram step-back jumper, a Holiday pass out of bounds at the end of the shot clock, an E’Twaun Moore midrange pull-up jumper, a Lonzo Ball midrange pull-up jumper, an Ingram pull-up three, then a Ball pull-up three.

All of those are shots that the Jazz love to see: They’ll take those shots over paint drives or catch-and-shoot threes any day. Credit goes to the Jazz’s defense for locking down, and especially to Gobert’s paint protection. I also thought the Pelicans got tired in their first real action back.

That Jazz transition defense number isn’t good enough. We talked about how Mudiay left Redick open from deep in transition, but Mudiay wasn’t alone. The Jazz have struggled in consistently finding a man running back since coming to Orlando, especially the bench. It’s a relatively easy point of improvement, and given how effective their defense can be in the halfcourt, one that would pay off in a big way.