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The Triple Team: Despite slow shooting start, Jazz stick to their guns and eventually out-fire Knicks for 9th straight win

New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett, left, defends as Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, right, lays the ball up in the second half during an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 108-94 win over the New York Knicks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Progression and regression to the mean

In the first half, things got a little bit bonkers.

The Knicks were shooting 60% from three, while the Jazz languished at 17%. Austin Rivers put up 25 points on 10-10 shooting, including 5-5 from deep. Meanwhile, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, and Bojan Bogdanovic combined to miss their first 17 shots.

Was this because the Jazz were playing bad defense, or getting ugly looks? I wanted to find out. So I went back and watched those 17 misses, and found six iffy misses — a couple of contested layups, a blocked Mitchell dunk, a forced floater, an iso pull-up three, and a mid-range pull-up early in the shot clock.

Other than that? We also saw four open catch-and-shoot corner threes, three catch-and-shoot wing threes, an open 18-footer, and a couple of good pull-up threes in transition and pick-and-roll all missed, for not much more reason than simple shot variance.

Of course, Rivers doesn’t usually make all 10 shots, either.

But sometimes, crazy stuff happens! What I love about what the Jazz did tonight was that they kept their approach consistent.

As Quin Snyder put it, “We had a lot of stretches where it was hard to tell how well we were playing because we weren’t making shots. The best thing to do about that is to keep attacking, to not change the way that you’re playing ... To have trouble making shots and still take 48 threes is as significant to me as anything.”

And low and behold, the Jazz’s shots started to fall, essentially as soon as the second half opened. The 13-point Knicks halftime lead was down to 1 by the end of the third quarter, and then reversed by the end of the fourth.

The crazy Knicks shots that went in the first half, well, they couldn’t go in forever either. Austin Rivers was held scoreless in the second half — he missed his last four shots after making his first 10. Julius Randle, R.J. Barrett, Elfrid Payton all struggled. And then the Jazz got continued rough games from Alec Burks and Emmanuel Quickley, eventually forcing a 35 point second half.

And in the end, the stats made sense: both teams shot in the 30s from deep, and 40s overall. Conley ended with 19. And while Mitchell never quite got it going, that was okay — Rudy Gobert, Royce O’Neale, and Georges Niang picked up the slack.

It showed impressive confidence in the plan — the Jazz stuck with it, and it worked.

2. Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert

I wrote about the unique rotation that Quin Snyder has used this season two games ago, but a recap: the Jazz are essentially tying Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert at the hip, subbing both out early in each quarter, giving them a break in the middle of each quarter, then returning them for the last couple of minutes of each quarter.

I learned PBPStats has a cool graphic that shows this, so I wanted to show you all.

Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert's rotation chart. Orange is with both Conley and Gobert on the floor, blue is Conley without Gobert, and green is Gobert without Conley. (https://www.pbpstats.com/wowy-combo-playing-time-distribution/nba).

Each new bar is a different one of the Jazz’s games so far. The first thing you notice is a lot of orange — they play together a whole bunch. In fact, the last time they didn’t was the Jazz’s last loss, also against the Knicks.

Compare that with Conley and Mitchell’s chart:

Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell's rotation chart. Orange is with both Conley and Mitchell on the floor, green is Conley without Mitchell, and blue is Mitchell without Conley. (https://www.pbpstats.com/wowy-combo-playing-time-distribution/nba).

Orange is both, blue is Mitchell on without Conley, and green is Conley on without Mitchell. Without a traditional backup point guard on the main roster, the Jazz are playing games so that one of Conley or Mitchell is out there at all times, unless it’s garbage time.

Tonight, it was the Gobert/Conley combo that was super effective. In a 14-point game, both Conley and Gobert had matching +27 plus-minuses. In the 31 minutes when both were on the court, the Jazz had a 125 offensive rating and an 80 defensive rating. Yeah, that’s pretty good.

That’s obviously a great game, but that pairing has been super effective all season long. In fact, any time Conley and Gobert are on the court together, the Jazz are outscoring opponents by 20.4 points per 100 possessions. Given that’s a majority of the game — that’s pretty impressive.

3. Royce O’Neale, scoring in other ways besides 3s

To be clear — I love O’Neale’s emphasis on the 3-point shot. It is the best aspect of his game. He should shoot it far more often, actually. But tonight he showed some ways he can get two points within the arc, too.

O’Neale’s limitation from inside is always going to be his lack of dribbling ability. He’s just not a good ball-handler for an NBA guard or wing. This makes sense — he’s never been the go-to guy for his teams, not internationally, not in college. (In high school, he got all the way up to 16 points per game.)

But there are other ways to score inside besides dribbling in traffic. You can outfight opponents for rebounds, then get the putbacks:

You can bail out your teammate who is stuck with a well-timed cut:

You can even flash a little post game:

To be sure, it’s sometimes difficult to find these opportunities in the Jazz’s offense. Most of the time, Quin Snyder wants you to run back on defense, not go for offensive rebounds. Most of the time, he’ll want you to be spaced for your teammates. And most of the time, the post game isn’t what’s on the drawing board for anyone — if Derrick Favors isn’t getting those plays drawn up for him, O’Neale isn’t either.

But there are spots in which you can surprise the defense by getting those looks they’re not expecting. Tonight, O’Neale did that, and was rewarded with a career-high 20 points for his efforts.

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