Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 122-108 win over the Boston Celtics from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Donovan Mitchell leads a terrific Jazz offensive performance
Donovan Mitchell is proving the haters wrong.
Look, the haters aren’t particularly brilliant. But he played at a superstar level once again today, really taking ownership of the team in the second half and leading the Jazz to 74 points overall in that 24 minutes.
In particular, he drove the last half-quarter, pulling the Jazz away from the Celtics through sheer aggression and shotmaking. He had a terrific recognition of when it was his turn to attack, and when the Celtics defense was paying too much attention to him, leaving someone else open. More than anything else, he read the game on the fly and made the right decision every time.
Like, I’m actually really impressed by this play. Yes, clearly, this is a huge mistake by Boston, to just leave Bojan Bogdanovic this open right after a timeout. But I think earlier versions of Mitchell don’t take advantage, instead preferring to just run the play Quin Snyder drew up in the timeout. Here, Mitchell has his eyes open and is ready to pounce with the long pass.
Again, an old version of Mitchell slows the game down here; he loves to walk the ball up the court with the game close late. After a missed free-throw, how often do you get a fast break? But Mitchell and Joe Ingles recognize the opportunity, and then Mitchell attacks in the perfect way to get Ingles open.
He goes on to hit just three highlight reel shots: all pull-up threes, and one anklebreaker shot that may well be the top play on SportsCenter. He’s in a groove, on TNT, with the perfect opportunity to keep raising that points total, proving the haters wrong. The defense, again, is focused on one thing, stopping Mitchell.
So what does he do? He draws the defense in, and lobs it to Rudy Gobert.
That’s the thing that makes this team feel a little different: they really do play for one another, and it’s in large part due to Mitchell’s attitude as the team’s best offensive player.
“The two passes to Rudy, y’all know, last year, the year before that, and the year before that, I probably don’t throw that pass,” Mitchell said. “So, like, that’s the progression that I’m seeing in myself. And my teammates are seeing me and just being able to trust it.”
The Jazz had an 130 offensive rating today against the league’s eighth best defense, a team with a lot of perimeter length and talent. They didn’t shoot above-averagely well, either — this wasn’t a fluke performance. So far, they’ve answered every possible offensive question that’s been asked at the highest level.
2. Aggression on both ends
I’ve been thinking about the differences between this Jazz team and last year’s, and I think I’ve identified a big one:
Previous Jazz teams, I think, tried to dissect their opponent. Forgive me extending a gruesome metaphor here, but if the Jazz wanted their opponent dead, they asked him to get on the operating table, put him under anesthesia, took out a scalpel, cut open the chest’s skin, removed some ribs, carefully snipped the aorta and all of the other arteries and veins, and then took their opponent’s heart out. At some point, talented opponents thought “wait, I don’t like what’s going on here,” and sometimes slipped away.
This Jazz team has a more direct approach. They have a machete. If they want their opponent dead, they’re just gonna start swinging.
They’re taking seven more threes a game. They’re running in transition way more. They’ve fully unleashed Jordan Clarkson to do whatever he wants — that means attack. Even players like Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and Miye Oni, who have been really reluctant to take shots at times in their careers, are letting it go.
Focusing in on Ingles for a second; he took 11 threes tonight. But not only that, he also got to the free-throw line 10 times, the most in his NBA career. Yes, the Celtics blow the switch a little, but do you know how many versions of Ingles aren’t ready to take advantage, especially with time on the shot clock? This version of Ingles does, and hits.
And on the defensive end, they just get after it more. They’re averaging nearly two more blocks per game in this season than last, for example. Rudy Gobert is terrific at blocking basketballs, but I thought last season, he was a little bit too happy to play the percentages — yes, a mid-range shot is a bad shot, but it still has a 35% chance of going in.
Unless you just block it. Then it has a 0% chance.
Because they’ve been more aggressive, they’re repeatedly having these game-breaking runs that just ruin opponents — like a hack-and-slash video game where you build up points by combining attacks. This isn’t Operation, it’s Mortal Kombat.
3. Refereeing was rough
I think this is the first time I’ve directly discussed the refereeing this season. Honestly, for the most part, I think it’s been really good this year.
Tonight’s crew of Leroy Richardson, Mark Ayotte, and Tony Brown were really, really poor. I could have a list of more detailed qualms, but they committed a ton of refereeing sins tonight:
• No consistency from period to period. There were seven combined free-throw attempts in the first half, and 34 combined free-throw attempts in the second half. It just got absurd in those last two periods, and made a really good game difficult to watch.
• Sheer guessing on calls. Replay wasn’t kind to the referees tonight — it failed to show fouls on numerous drives to the rim where the referees thought there was contact but instead the defensive player got all ball. Likewise, there were a bunch of times where a player ended up on the floor and the referees just kind of assumed that there was a foul on the defensive player.
• Fouls called after a make or miss. There’s no need to look at the result of a layup when deciding to blow the whistle. If there was a foul, call one. If not, keep playing.
• Rubber-band refereeing. I thought it was pretty clear that whistles were more likely to be blown in one direction when the game needed to be kept close. This especially applied in the third quarter, when I had to bite my tongue on some of the whistles to Jayson Tatum.
I will say this as a positive note: they didn’t compound their error by giving a technical to either side, with multiple players clearly unhappy with what was happening on the court. I like that they gave both teams leeway to be upset, rather than making an even bigger show of things by adding points in one direction or another.
But overall, it was a frustrating game to watch for fans of both teams — just search Twitter or read the game threads to confirm that. Like I said, I think it’s been a good refereeing season so far, but tonight was an exception.