The Triple Team: Jazz show off their offensive versatility, score 134 points without stars at their best

Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 134-123 win over the Philadelphia 76ers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) looks for a shot as Philadelphia 76ers center Dwight Howard (39) defends, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Philadelphia 76ers at Vivint Arena, on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021.

1. How did Jazz score 134 points in that game?

Mike Conley is out. Donovan Mitchell shot 9-24 for the night. Bojan Bogdanovic scored only 11 on 12 shots. Rudy Gobert only took three shots. As a whole, the Jazz shot their season average from 3-point range: 40%.

This is not what you would consider a recipe for a tremendous Jazz offensive night.

And yet, it was. Obviously, the key player was Jordan Clarkson, who scored 40 — my colleague Eric Walden has a whole feature on him over here. What Clarkson did tonight is remarkable, but not surprising. He can just light up opposing bench units with one of the quickest triggers in basketball, plus an ability to drive and get to the free-throw line.

But even ignoring the Clarkson possessions, the Jazz still had an offensive rating of about 120, despite all of the factors going against them I listed above. How did they do it?

Joe Ingles inside the arc. He scored 20 points while shooting 8-12 from the field. Usually, when Ingles gets a 20-point game, it’s because of his 3-point shooting, but tonight, Ingles only made 2-5 from deep. It was the 6-7 from inside the arc that made the difference.

Ingles used to be able to score inside in essentially one way: the left-handed layup at the rim, either visibly or subtly using the roll man to get himself open. Yes, he can still do that. But he showed a versatility tonight against some pretty solid Sixers defense on him — this is a tough shot, and he knocked it down anyway.

He hit even three shots from the midrange, which I’m almost certain was a new record for him. “I’ll probably never do that again,” Ingles said.

The Jazz had an 133 offensive rating on Ingles possessions.

Transition excellence. The Jazz had 19 fast-break points tonight, despite the Sixers making a high percentage (50%) from the field and only coughing up 12 turnovers. This might have made up the largest subcategory of Clarkson’s points — he just wasn’t afraid to shoot it in transition, no matter what.

This is a very stupid shot... for anyone else. You have no chance to offensive rebound it, it’s off-balance, it’s wild. Among NBA players, I’d probably feel comfortable if Steph Curry or Klay Thompson took it, Kevin Durant too. Clarkson, somehow, has earned that level of respect for me too, because he’s just looked so good in his time with the Jazz.

Any possession that ends with a Clarkson shot? Sure, I’m good with it. At this point, he could chuck it behind his back and I’d be relatively satisfied with the look, because the man knows some sort of magic that I can’t really fathom.

The Jazz had a 157 offensive rating in transition possessions.

Putback chances. The Jazz didn’t have a ton of these tonight, but they were efficient when they got them. Obviously, many come when the opposing big man comes to help on defense, freeing Favors and Gobert to just get an easy dunk.

This is another benefit of spacing: it’s much harder for the opponent to sink down and help Gobert on the glass. If Mitchell makes it, great. If not, Gobert has a great chance at two points.

The Jazz had a 160 offensive rating in put-back chances tonight.

It shows the versatility that the Jazz have in scoring the ball: even if a lot of things only go averagely — or worse — they still have all of these outs to score very well in other ways.

2. Jazz’s defense on Ben Simmons

Quin Snyder was happy to get out of this one with a win, but you could tell that he wasn’t 100% happy after the game. That’s because he’s a defense-first coach, and the Jazz’s defense wasn’t up to par in a game in which the opponent was missing their MVP candidate, Joel Embiid.

In particular, Ben Simmons probably had the best game of his career, a 42-point, 12 assist, nine rebound performance that showcased everything he can be as a player. It was the kind of game that felt like a statement for Simmons — imagine what I could be if all of these possessions didn’t go to the big man?

Regardless of the reason, the Jazz didn’t really have an answer for him. The Jazz started the game by having Gobert defend him, but Simmons found a loophole: if he attacked early in transition, Gobert likely wouldn’t be back on defense in time. He scored 19 points in transition, largely from those quick scores.

After that early stretch, the Jazz were better at getting back, but Simmons still found joy. Derrick Favors was no match for Simmons — the Australian showed an ability to score through Favors’ strength and over his more limited length. On a few possessions, Bojan Bogdanovic got a shot, and he wasn’t quick enough.

Royce O’Neale did the best. While Simmons still scored a lot on O’Neale, he was able to force a few misses and turnovers.

Still, it wasn’t great overall, and putting O’Neale on Simmons meant that Tobias Harris could find open looks, or that Gobert was in some odd situations where he struggled to impact the play.

You know what it made me worry about? How the Jazz are going to defend LeBron James. Simmons, at times, can play like the poor man’s version of LeBron. Simmons has the length, the inside scoring ability, the transition speed, and the tremendous vision that approximates LeBron. LeBron, meanwhile, has the huge advantage of being able to shoot. How will the Jazz defend a Simmons who can shoot?

That’s where you get to a potential weakness of this team: do they have someone who can reliably defend these huge scoring wings? O’Neale is their best shot on the roster, but you worry about whether LeBron could simply shoot over him or out-physical him. One of the best players ever is going to get his no matter what, but it matters whether James goes 13-18 or 13-23.

I do think this Sixers situation was relatively unique — they were able to put a lot of shooting around Simmons, and the Jazz’s gameplan was built around Embiid (the center’s absence wasn’t announced until about 20 minutes before tipoff.) But if you’re searching for a question the Jazz might struggle to answer, wing defensive length is one such shortage.

3. Is this fun, or what?

19 wins in 20 games!

Look, when you’re winning that much, it’s going to seem fun no matter what. Wins are fun.

But I do think that there’s something great about this team in terms of the way that they’re winning. It’s not just one or two players’ dominance that is leading to this streak. This isn’t the 1971-72 Lakers, who won 33 games in a row behind Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, or the 2012-13 Heat, who won 27 in a row behind LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.

It’s a coalescence of everyone. Mitchell has been above-average in probably 11 or 12 of the games? They’ve missed Conley for five games now. Gobert has been pretty consistent, but not otherworldly on offense. They’ve rotated good games from Bogdanovic, Clarkson, O’Neale and Ingles.

David Aldridge, one of the most legendary NBA writers working right now, joined tonight’s press conference with Snyder after the game. Aldridge asked about the fun the Jazz were having.

“I think any time you throw yourself completely into a team, you know, you get rewarded for it. And it’s fun, to be a part of something that’s bigger than any one guy individually,” Snyder said. “That’s one of the special things about team sports, because you get to share what you’re doing with other people.”

After the game, of course, Clarkson was asked about his terrific performance. But he said that there wasn’t anything that special about what he did.

“We all have the freedom to go do that,” Clarkson said. “It’s definitely a sign of respect and love that’s shared with our team.”

Love and basketball. Isn’t it beautiful?