Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 106-102 win over the Denver Nuggets from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Role players make the difference in Jazz’s win vs. Nuggets
Here’s tonight’s player scoring in graphical form:
See how the Nuggets have two twin towers of scoring, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, while the Jazz’s scoring is much more balanced? In the end, the Jazz’s role players were the ones who got them over the top of the Nuggets tonight.
Usually, this is a strength of Denver’s: they actually have eight players who average 10 points per game or more, while the Jazz only have five (Joe Ingles just misses the cutoff, averaging 9.9 points per game). So how did the Jazz limit the Nuggets role players scoring?
Watching the film, I think Utah got a little lucky. Will Barton went 1-6 — the misses were three pretty wide open threes and two missed layups. Gary Harris went 2-11, including five open threes missed, a missed layup, and a missed open 18 footer. This has been a concern of theirs with Michael Porter Jr. missing games... can they get enough scoring from the wings?
I will note that one Nuggets iffy performance, JaMychal Green’s 2-8, was the result of some legitimately good defense from Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Georges Niang (who has improved defensively this year). Other than that, I thought that the Jazz were fortunate that the Nuggets role players weren’t able to find their groove.
Meanwhile, the Jazz’s role players were excellent, taking charge as Donovan Mitchell had a real struggle of a game. Jordan Clarkson led the Jazz with an efficient 23 points on only 13 shots, Mike Conley was excellent with 14 points, eight assists, and only one turnover, Bojan Bogdanovic made five threes and had 17 points, and even Niang got 11 off the bench.
While Denver is usually considered a deep team, they are certainly weaker than last year. After the departure of Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee and Torrey Craig, adding Facundo Campazzo, Green, and Isaiah Hartenstein hasn’t worked out as well. That’s the danger of having successful role players in the NBA: you have to pay them or lose them. (The Jazz, with relatively big contracts to Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, Derrick Favors, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Jordan Clarkson, have chosen to pay them.)
The NBA adage is that you can count on your role players at home and the star players on the road, but it was the opposite in the game tonight, which meant a Jazz win.
2. Nuggets can’t take advantage of offensive rebounds
Normally, offensive rebound conversion percentage wouldn’t be a point in a Triple Team — there are other facts that usually determine the winner of a game. In particular, shooting usually is the big one: as obvious as it is, the team that makes more baskets usually wins the game.
But this one absolutely cost the Nuggets this win, and in turn, gave the Jazz the victory.
The Nuggets had 23 offensive rebounds tonight, meaning that they got 42% of the rebounds every time they took a shot in the half-court. That’s a really tough rebounding night for the Jazz, and they got away with it — because the Nuggets only got 14 second chance points on those 23 opportunities. That compares to eight second chance points from the Jazz’s seven offensive rebounds.
League average, though, is about 1.25 points per 100 possessions after an offensive rebound. The Nuggets getting 23 offensive rebounds would usually mean 29 points for them, not 14. In a four-point loss, that 15-point difference looms large.
Again, watching the tape, I thought the Jazz got a bit fortunate. This possession counted as three of the rebounds: one for Jokic on the initial shot, another one for Jokic after his attempted tip off the rim, and one for Millsap after the missed three. But in the end, the Nuggets came up empty on the possession, and Bojan Bogdanovic came down the other end and hit a three on the next play.
There was clearly an increased emphasis on the boards late in the third quarter as the onslaught occurred, but still, 23 offensive rebounds is an unacceptable number for the Jazz to give up. The Jazz were the league’s 4th-best defensive rebounding team coming into the game, so that’s a little surprising that it happened — let’s hope it’s a blip, not the start of a trend.
3. Early scoring doesn’t necessarily mean later success
So there’s this idea in the NBA that “scorers need to get an easy early look at the basket to get going.”
Tonight, though, were two really good examples of that not really being the case. Donovan Mitchell started the game with an easy dunk on the game’s very first possession... and then missed his next nine shots before the halftime break. He had a really poor game overall after that, in fact, with some ugly turnovers in the fourth.
Okay, well maybe one basket isn’t enough. Maybe a stretch of good early play will get a player going. Jamal Murray certainly qualified: he had 24 points before halftime on 16 shots.
And then he scored six points in the rest of the game, going 0-5 in the third quarter and 2-11 the rest of the night. Indeed, in my notes during the game, I wanted to remind myself to go back and look at what the Jazz changed defensively to bother Murray so much.
Well, here were Murray’s five shots he missed in the third quarter.
Yeah, he could have made all of those, especially those wide-open threes. He just missed them.
I didn’t expect there to be an overarching theme of tonight’s Triple Team, but we’ve had two:
1. Conventional wisdom didn’t come true on Sunday night
2. The Jazz were a little fortunate to come out with a win
Nevertheless, it’s a good victory for the Jazz, who have now won five straight. They play New Orleans at Vivint Arena on Tuesday.