Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 130-109 win over the San Antonio Spurs from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Rudy Gobert locks down the paint
Rudy Gobert was terrific tonight, not just locking down the paint but really the whole floor. He had six blocks and countless really good defensive plays that really frustrated the Spurs, giving them no chance offensively.
Here are all six blocks:
Some commentary on each:
• Just an absolutely absurd display of agility from Gobert. DeRozan drives, and you can see — as soon as Gobert goes to help, Rudy Gay moves. DeRozan kicks it out, and Gobert tries to steal the pass from where Gay was, not where he is now. But he sprints to try to intercept Gay’s drive, and somehow puts the brakes on enough to stay in front of Gay’s eurostep against Gobert’s momentum. Gay just throws up an awkward floater, which gets blocked.
Spurs commentators: “There’s Gobert!”
• Gobert steps up to try to take the shot away from Mills after the fake, and Gobert turns around and just swats Mills’ layup against the backboard. Again, Gobert’s ability to bite and then completely recover is just exceptional.
Spurs commentators: “Whoops, he picked the wrong side of the rim.”
• DeMar DeRozan has Gobert isolated after a screen, and gets Gobert backpedaling with a fake towards the middle. But Gobert stays attached, and swats DeRozan easily.
Spurs commentators: “Gobert may have gotten a piece of that.”
• Again, Gobert’s switched on to Gay, but leaves him so he can go help Georges Niang at the rim. That’s the thing with Gobert in the game — you think you have Niang isolated and you’re licking your lips, and all of a sudden, Gobert can appear and change your mood really quickly. (And then Gobert awkwardly saves it back to Murray, because he is an agile animal without the ball and... not that with it.)
Spurs commentators... don’t have time to mention the block.
• Two consecutive blocks by Gobert. Murray isolates against Gobert and just enters a spin cycle. This is not especially wise, because Gobert doesn’t really have to jump in order to block Murray’s shot, so he bites for none of the fakes. But he gets his own rebound and wisely decides not to dive, instead pulling up from the corner. Honestly, it seems like Gobert is too far away to make the block — and I was wrong, because he does. Rudy Gobert is a lanky individual.
Spurs commentators: “Dejounte got that one blocked by Gobert, and now tries a three! — And Gobert blocks that.”
That was just the blocks. He forced a couple of the Spurs turnovers as well, one a travel on the perimeter and one a bad pocket pass on a pick-and-roll. His presence just changed everything about the Spurs’ game, and stifled their entire flow.
The Jazz had an 85 defensive rating with Gobert on the floor tonight, and it would have been lower if Utah could have just not applied the butter to their hands on the offensive end before the game. Without those fast break points, it would have been an even larger beatdown.
2. Jazz dominate the 3-point math
The Spurs took the third-fewest threes in the NBA last year. They only took 19 tonight: that’s less than any team in the NBA has taken in any game this season.
Meanwhile, the Jazz made 21 of their 41 threes.
If you lose the 3-point battle by a whopping 45 points, you can make up for a lot of sins. The Jazz had a 20-7 turnover disadvantage tonight, and still won by over 20. The Jazz shot just 57% from the free-throw line, and still won by over 20. The Jazz lost the offensive-rebounding battle 14-9, and still won by over 20.
I was blown away with how laissez-faire the Spurs seemed about stopping the Jazz’s 3-point attack on Sunday. If they’d watched early-season film, they’d have seen the Jazz really struggle when teams apply perimeter defensive pressure. Force the Jazz inside, and they can overthink things.
Or, you know, you can just let them fire away with impunity. Going under the screens for Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles, well, it isn’t smart. Neither is just leaving Bojan Bogdanovic one easy pass away. Neither is just leaving Royce O’Neale to give olé help. And yet...
That Jazz won’t always make this many of them; 21-41 is a really good percentage. And yet, the Spurs shot themselves in the foot with this iffy 3-point defense — in articular, Lonnie Walker and DeMar DeRozan left a lot to be desired on the defensive end.
3. Really long road trips
This year’s NBA schedule has given the Jazz a different look — a seven-game road trip, the first of which was the win against the Spurs. It’s the longest Jazz road trip since the 2002 Olympic trip.
Road trip narratives are funny. Road trip losses are due to the fatigue created by being on the road that long — I can attest that you do feel tired by the end of a long road trip, though us beat writers fly commercial while the team flies charter. Road trip wins are due to the bonding time the team gets together and the increased camaraderie there.
Way back in 2012, two researchers from the University of Pennsylvania were curious about whether or not the length of road trips had an impact on how teams performed, looking at two years of data. What they found was interesting: by the second game of the road trip, teams performed an average of 1 point worse than the first game. But on subsequent games of that road trip, there no longer was much of a difference.
Truthfully, I would have preferred they study more than just 2 years of NBA data to really believe that conclusion. But I think the Spurs, Sunday’s opponent, might be the best team to ask — every year, they have the “rodeo trip,” as the AT&T Center is used for an annual rodeo for weeks. That means an annual road trip of about eight games, but the Spurs had a winning record in 14 of the first 15 such road trips.
Then the team declined over the past couple of seasons, and they’ve gone 2-6 and 1-7.
In other words: good teams typically win most of their games on long road trips, and iffy to bad teams lose most of their games. It’s still basketball, even when you’ve been on the road for double-digit days.