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The Triple Team: Utah Jazz run for easy threes, highlight plays in big win against Pelicans

Jazz also continue to clamp down at the defensive end, making this one of their best all-around efforts of the season

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) makes a flying pass as the Utah Jazz host the New Orleans Pelicans, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 118-102 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. The Jazz are just ruthless against bad 3-point defenses

The Pelicans came into Tuesday night’s game allowing the most 3-point attempts and makes to their opponents, so perhaps it wasn’t exactly surprising when the Jazz were able to carve them up with a ton of open threes. In fact, the Jazz hit 21 of them tonight.

So where did they come from?

• 7 of them came from a transition play, the biggest single source of Jazz threes. The Pelicans were really reliably poor in getting back tonight, which made a lot of Jazz threes easy — the Jazz just attack attack a man-advantage situation, find the open guy, and let him shoot.

• 5 came from attacking the aggression of the Pelicans in pick and roll. For most of the game, the Pellies were sending the screener’s defender high in the pick and roll to stop the ballhandler, which then meant someone had to “help the helper” to stop Rudy Gobert or Derrick Favors from dunking at the rim. But that also meant that there was a wide open man somewhere on the perimeter, and the Jazz reliably found him.

• 5 came from drive and kick, finding overhelping or ballwatching defenders. The Joe Ingles drive here wasn’t particularly dangerous, but it still caused Nickeil Alexander-Walker to watch the ball. Then Jordan Clarkson moved five feet over and got an open look.

• 1 isolation step-back from Jordan Clarkson doing Jordan Clarkson things.

• 1 zone over-help — after the man defense wasn’t working, the Pelicans tried a zone defense that also didn’t work

• 1 Spain pick and roll pop-out — Joe Ingles set a screen for Gobert to roll to the rim, and both defenders stepped to Gobert, leaving Ingles open on the wing for a catch-and-shoot three.

• 1 broken play where Mike Conley was trapped in the corner, the ball squirted out to Gobert, who found an open Ingles in the corner.

So when ESPN’s Tim MacMahon asked Quin Snyder about how his offense was generating so many threes over the last few games, you can see why his answer started with defense, not offense — it really is one of the most reliable sources of threes for the Jazz.

“When we get stops, our guys are committed right now to running,” Snyder said. “That was more sporadic earlier in the year — we were running when we felt good. Now, we’re running for each other.”

That’s especially true when teams are challenging Gobert at the rim, then missing. In general, that means two opponents are at the rim — the layup-attempter and the big man going for the offensive rebound. But if the Jazz can get the rebound instead, then start the fast break, these 3-point opportunities are there, and the Jazz can take advantage.

2. Jazz near their defensive best

While the Pelicans aren’t formidable defensively, they can be a real challenge offensively. When you add together Zion Williamson’s strength in finishing around the rim, Brandon Ingram’s isolation scoring, Eric Bledsoe’s bowling-ball drives, J.J. Redick’s shooting, Lonzo Ball’s skill in transition, and Steven Adams’ elite offensive rebounding, there are a lot of threats to worry about.

That’s why it was so important for all of the Jazz’s defenders to do their job individually — and all of them did. The Jazz started with Gobert guarding Adams and Bojan Bogdanovic guarding Williamson. That meant Royce O’Neale could guard Brandon Ingram, the kind of bigger player he has success against. Mike Conley was also very good against Eric Bledsoe.

Bogdanovic had the least success, but that’s what you’d expect, and in my opinion, Williamson gave it all back and more on the defensive end with his inability to impact the game in space and as an off-ball defender. If they’d have Favors out there, Williamson’s job would be easy.

But the Pelicans haven’t really figured out to make each other better yet — it’s just kind of each of their skilled players trading off possessions. If you can stop their first action, they can run out of ideas pretty quickly.

Once again, Gobert played really well in protecting the rim and forcing the Pelicans to consistently shoot mid-range shots: 40 of the Pelicans shots came from there, which the Jazz were happy to see.

I do want to highlight one Gobert block that is just so ridiculous it defies reason. Gobert swipes at the ball and gets a deflection, which he thinks goes out of bounds. He turns to the ref and complains, then somehow gets his wits about him and chases down Bledsoe for the block.

I mean, how was this Gobert’s block? He’s not even looking at Bledsoe, who’s well beyond him!

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It was self-inflicted difficulty, but Gobert’s ability on this play is just otherworldly. Utahns are so, so lucky to watch this guy work in the prime of his career.

3. Donovan Mitchell’s wraparound

Except that wasn’t the best play of the night. Instead, that honor goes to Donovan Mitchell’s hyper-athletic wraparound pass to Bogdanovic at the top of the arc, featured on SportsCenter, on Bleacher Report, and everywhere you see highlights.

I mean first of all, it’s a crazy pass — I do think he has two easier options here, but this one is the most effective if you can pull it off. But the athleticism to get up in the air, keep the ball low, and throw an absolute bullet to Bogdanovic right in his shooting pocket? It’s an excellent, excellent passes I’ve ever seen, requiring special vision and execution.

This is my longstanding hot take: while Mitchell is best known for his highlight-reel dunks, there’s a certain amount of predictability to them. If he gets the space to plant both feet down, he’s going to go up, spread his legs, and cock the ball back and throw the ball down with one hand. It is awesome, and yet also a bit perfunctory.

Mitchell’s assists, usually bullet passes from crazy angles, are cooler plays. They require split-second thinking and arm talent (in wingspan and sheer strength) that is pretty unique — he definitely shows off his baseball past in these moments, and they’re truly “wow” moments of improvised athleticism. I’d watch those highlights on repeat over the dunk package.

(By the way, an underrated Mitchell highlight candidate: his rebounds. He gets up for some crazy rebounds in the fourth quarter of close games, out-jumping some huge dudes.)

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