The Triple Team: Jazz go to 2 OTs with Nuggets before faltering, in a game that had nearly everything

Utah Jazz's Rudy Gobert, left, is defended by Denver Nuggets' Michael Porter Jr., center, and Nikola Jokic (15) during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)

Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 134-132 double-overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Donovan Mitchell’s shotmaking

That game was the most exciting Rorschach test of all time.

A Rorschach test is one of those ink blot pictures that psychologists use to determine a person’s mental and emotional characteristics.

Rorschach blot #1.

You see a moth, it might mean that your brain works in a certain way. If you see a mask or an imposing face, it might mean something else.

That game had so much of everything packed into it’s double-OT length that you can see anything you want to see: How you interpret it is mostly a reflection of you, not what happened.

Take Donovan Mitchell’s game for example. He scored 35 points on 12-33 FG (5-16 from 3), added eight assists, six rebounds, five turnovers, a block and a steal. He made some incredible plays to get the Jazz back in the game when they faced deficits in the 4th quarter and overtime. I mean, look at this shot:

To catch the ball like that, turn, and maintain body balance to get that to swish down? It’s a play that very few NBA players can make. Mitchell made it look easy.

Mitchell didn’t make just one of them. He had three of those crazy shots to extend the game. He hit another contested shot with 30 seconds to go in overtime when the Jazz looked cooked, and then another one with seven seconds left in double OT to push the final score to 134-132. He just would not quit.

But if you want, you can look at it another way. You can say, “Well, if Mitchell wouldn’t have gone 5-16 from three in the game in the first place, or shot better than 38% for the game in the first place, the Jazz wouldn’t have had those deficits. They could have had a lead.”

You can do that with every aspect of the game. You can point to the eight assists as evidence that Mitchell is developing his passing and decision making, or you can point to the five turnovers and say that it’s still lacking. You can point to the block and the steal, or the five fouls. You can point to the seven FT attempts, and say that’s either pretty good for a player of Mitchell’s size, or you can say that one of the league’s elite scorers would have gone to the line even more. You can say whatever you want to say.

I’ll say this: I’m thrilled that Mitchell is on the Jazz for the long term, because he’s the kind of player that makes it possible to believe anything. There aren’t too many players like that.

2. Rudy Gobert’s impact

You can do the same Rorschach thing with Rudy Gobert’s game. Gobert scored 22 points on 9-16 shooting, adding 13 rebounds and two assists.

He was absolutely dominant on both ends early. As the Jazz got out to a 29-15 lead after the first quarter, Gobert rolled to the rim and finished brilliantly, then kept Nikola Jokic and his squad in check on the other end. There were so many plays that looked to be developing, then didn’t just because the Nuggets were scared that Gobert was there. That’s now his signature defensive play: not a block, but a back-out.

But then the fourth quarter came around and Gobert wasn’t good. Gobert went 0-5 in the fourth quarter and overtime, adding a turnover. Kevin Harlan absolutely killed him on the TNT broadcast, pointing out his faults over and over again.

That being said, if Gobert hadn’t been great earlier, the Jazz wouldn’t have been in that position. Three of those shots were off Gobert’s own offensive rebounds: If he hadn’t have worked for them, they would have just been Nuggets defensive rebounds.

Regarding Gobert’s ability to guard Jokic, the Serbian put up a 30 point (11-21 FG), 11 rebound, seven assist game. Those are higher than Jokic’s per game totals, but he played 42 minutes in this one, so the rebounds and assists are lower than his per-36 minute averages. Jokic had his biggest play of the game when guarded by Royce O’Neale.

And his second-biggest play, the five-fake post move that resulted in Gobert’s sixth foul, is open to interpretation too. Was this three seconds, like Gobert wanted? Or should Gobert have defended better, knowing that referees never call that in fourth quarters and overtimes?

Again, the truth is kind of “all of the above.” Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you some narrative.

3. A franchise record for threes

The Nuggets outscored the Jazz in the paint by a total of 74-34. A forty-point swing, and yet the game went two overtimes!

That’s because the Jazz made 22 threes on 55 attempts, franchise records in both categories. Their previous highest number of threes attempted was in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies last year, when they shot 18-48 from deep. (Mike Conley was terrific in that game, scoring 28 points on 18 shots and adding 11 assists.)

That’s 40% shooting from deep, a pretty good number, but the Jazz average 38% shooting on the season, so you can’t exactly say it’s out of the norm, either. The Jazz generated those 3-point looks by attacking the paint, then dishing out to the open man.

I thought both Joe Ingles (who had 13 assists) and Mitchell showed impressive vision to the exterior in Saturday’s game, something both players sometimes lack. Five of Ingles’ assists were to the outside, seven of Mitchell’s eight were for threes.

There’s sometimes a tendency for both to get a little tunnel vision: Ingles usually has the roll man as his first option, while Mitchell usually is looking to score himself. But today, as a consequence of the collapsing Nuggets defense, they both looked outside to find open men for 3-point shots. That’s a good sign for a potential playoff matchup between the two teams: Both proved themselves capable of playmaking against this Nuggets defense.

Of course, like everything else in this Triple Team, you can spin it the other way: The Jazz literally had the most threes in franchise history and still lost. You could argue that going inside will be necessary to get the job done.

It all depends on what you see.