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The Triple Team: Mike Conley leads the offense, Rudy Gobert leads the defense for win vs. Clippers

Another superlative outing from the Jazz point guard, who scored 33 points and dished 7 assists

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) flexes his muscles after scoring against Los Angeles Clippers' Nicolas Batum (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 106-100 victory over the L.A. Clippers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Take a bow, Mike Conley

It was just a vintage performance from Jazz point guard Mike Conley to begin the new year, as he put his stamp on every aspect of the game to really carry the Jazz to a win. In the end, he scored 33 points, added seven assists, and had a steal along with two turnovers.

His most dangerous offensive weapon was the 3-ball. At halftime, Jazz assistant coach Vince LeGarza said that Conley had a clear edict: to take the 3-point shot every time when he found space on the pick and roll. He did that tonight, taking 14 shots from beyond the arc — Conley threes alone made about about a sixth of the Jazz’s shots; and a fifth of their points.

Quin Snyder confirmed it after the game. I asked him how green Conley’s light is on the pick and roll three, and he said “It’s like a green sun. It’s that bright.”

That three is such a versatile weapon because it’s really hard for defenders to go over the screen multiple times. Eventually, they’re likely to go under, or get caught up on it, and that likely means an open look or an open pathway to the rim.

Eventually, the Clippers just started switching the screens, but Conley was smart about how he took advantage of that, too. He was shifty enough with his first step to keep even Serge Ibaka — a pretty good mover for a center — off balance, leading to offensive opportunities for the Jazz.

And finally, he was masterful with the assist. He ended up picking up only seven, but I thought he passed his teammates more open than that number showed. Stuff like this, where he split the attempted Clipper switch, then found Gobert, was perfect.

One note on that: usually, it’s not a good idea to bounce pass to Gobert. But Conley throws the bounce pass with a ton of zip off the floor so that it is in Gobert’s high hands quickly. It’s very well done.

Interestingly, Conley has been the Jazz’s best player in the new season so far; it doesn’t seem like he has gotten as rattled as Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic have been. I think his development as a shooter has brought some clarity for him as he ages. Last year, it seemed like he was still trying to figure out how his rim threat had diminished, and kept forcing the issue in the paint as a result. This year, there’s a sense of direction that’s served him well.

2. Gobert protecting the rim

Over the years, it’s sometimes felt like the Clippers’ offensive gameplans fit right into the hands of what the Jazz are good at.

In particular, other teams seem to do more to try to bring Rudy Gobert out of the picture. The Clippers seemed pretty excited, especially early, to attack Gobert at the rim. That’s just not a smart move.

The result was a lot of shots from that not-efficient zone on the floor from 4-14 feet away, the Clippers only made eight of those 27 2-point shots. The Jazz will take that all day.

While Gobert’s defensive excellence is expected at this point, it’s still worth appreciating. Paul George ended up salvaging his night by making some threes down the stretch, but he was thoroughly out of sync early, starting 2-15 from the field. That’s because he was attacking Gobert at the rim on plays like this — he’s trying to draw the foul here, but I certainly don’t see one.

Kawhi Leonard stayed away more often, but he tried his shot, too. It was rejected.

And then if those All-Stars aren’t having success, it was difficult to understand why the likes of Terence Mann and Patrick Beverley thought they’d do better.

If Conley’s been the most consistent Jazzman early in the season, Gobert’s No. 2. He’s certainly held up his end of the bargain defensively, though the offense has been more of a wildcard. Still, he’s the reason they won the Oklahoma City game and kept the dangerous Clippers in check Friday night.

3. Derrick Favors rebounding from the floor

While there’s a big gulf in defensive quality between Gobert and Favors — Favors is a smart and versatile defender, but Gobert is at least three notches better — there are some plays that Favors makes that Gobert isn’t capable of.

The biggest one is that Favors has a toughness on the offensive glass that Gobert doesn’t really have. Gobert is probably the better overall rebounder, but Favors’ physicality and stronger hands gives him more of a shot at the offensive rebounds where warring is necessary to have a chance.

Friday’s best offensive rebound from Favors actually came from the floor in the fourth quarter, when he won this rebound and quickly (and wisely) chucked it out to the perimeter.

I was also impressed with this play in Thursday’s loss to the Suns. Favors doesn’t go all the way to the ground here, but gets his hands on a tough bouncing ball in a rebound relatively far away from his original area.

Favors actually had the best offensive rebounding season of his career last year with the New Orleans Pelicans, when he picked up 13.9% of opponent misses. He’s surpassed that so far this year, though it’s still a small sample size. It’s a huge value add for the Jazz, adding some extra possessions to their tally.

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