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The Triple Team: Rebounding, Clippers’ spacing gives Jazz trouble late in loss

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 116-112 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell drives the ball between Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, left, and guard Terance Mann, rear, during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

1. Can the Jazz still be the league’s best rebounding team against size?

Let’s look at the Four Factors to determine what happened in this game:

Four Factors for Jazz vs. Clippers, from Cleaning the Glass. (https://www.cleaningtheglass.com/stats/game_detail?game=88544085)

“We lost the game on the boards,” Donovan Mitchell said. “That’s something we can look at.”

Yes, Mitchell, the biggest difference was in the rebounding. This is surprising because the Jazz are actually leading the league in rebounds per game, stand second in the league in offensive rebounding percentage, and eighth in the league in defensive rebounding percentage. They’re really quite good at that.

And yet, the Clippers smashed them on the offensive glass, with an 11-6 advantage in offensive rebounds and a 16-8 advantage on second chance points. When the Jazz needed a margin of error on offense, they weren’t getting the looks they needed.

Worse, when the Clippers missed shots, they did get those second chances. Here, Terence Mann sneaks in from the baseline to get this putback... Georges Niang is a passenger on this play. He can do better.

Or they got third chances. It’s the end of the game, and the Jazz’s only chance is to force a miss and get back on offense as soon as possible. Kawhi Leonard drives, misses, and gets his own rebound. Then he gets a second offensive rebound in 15 seconds here:

It’s hard, because Leonard just is longer than Royce O’Neale, there’s no doubt about it. But that’s when Mitchell can sneak down a little earlier and help his guy out — Gobert’s got his side of the court. On the other hand, it’s also a hard play because Leonard’s hands are so good.

That was something I saw repeatedly: it wasn’t very frequent that the Jazz made defensive rebounding mistakes, or nor was it frequent that they weren’t trying, but that the Clippers’ length gave them significant problems.

So that’s a real question for this team in the playoffs: they’ve rebounded extremely well despite only having one big player at his position — Gobert. Will they still be able to do that against the league’s taller teams? I think that’s still up in the air. This is nitpicky, but you do wish the Jazz had a big rebounding forward to play that role against terrific length.

2. Small lineup a tough matchup late

At the end of the game, I thought Ty Lue had a nice last adjustment: he had Marcus Morris play at center, leaving Serge Ibaka and Ivica Zubac on the bench.

That meant that either Derrick Favors or Rudy Gobert had to help inside and help out on the perimeter. Both players are actually very capable perimeter defenders, but they can’t be asked to do both — the Jazz need to rotate and scramble out in those possessions.

This is a problem because Morris is a 50% 3-point shooter this season. Yes, literally, 50%. So I understand that Royce O’Neale is stunting off of Kawhi Leonard here, and yet, he does actually need to be more of a pest than this.

Or, maybe better, just switch that play.

Gobert comes in, and the Clippers are still small. So here, Paul George drives on Bogdanovic, and Gobert comes over to help. The problem is that it’s an easy kickout to Patrick Beverley for the three.

Here, I think the help is reasonable: George deep in the paint is probably more of a threat than Beverley from the corner. But when he does help, Gobert thinks the pass is going to be a shot, jumps, and then as a result is too slow in closing out.

Again, the other thing the Jazz could do here is switch late: once Gobert comes down low, have Bogdanovic pop out to the corner. That’s really hard to do there, though, especially with George on the left side of the paint.

It goes to show you the value of spacing in this league: when you have 5 quality shooters, teams are hard to stop. That being said, the Jazz need to take advantage against these small lineups by rebounding better when they do miss — see point No. 1.

3. There were a lot of upsides, though

This game represented the strongest test the Jazz have faced this season. A full-strength Clippers team, with something to prove, coming off some rest, after the Jazz embarrassed them a little the game before, in the Staples Center... it’s probably the second or third-hardest game they’ll have all season, only behind their trips to Los Angeles to face the team in yellow — we’ll see if the Lakers are at full strength for those.

And yet, the Jazz’s offense held up. They still had a 114 offensive rating overall, and a 101 in halfcourt, both of which are pretty good figures. They didn’t get to the rim much, but still got up a relatively good number of threes against the Clippers’ defense. They missed some open ones, but so did the Clippers.

They also forced the Clippers to take a lot of midrange shots: the Clippers were a remarkable 11-17 from outside 14 feet but inside the 3-point line. Obviously, they do have a lot of players who can make those shots, but that’ll be near their high point. Now, you just wish that the Jazz had rebounded the misses they did get.

I still think it’s a very good matchup for Rudy Gobert, even though he didn’t play well offensively tonight: the Clippers only took 15 shots at the rim. Having two centers he can play well against is nice, and the Clippers can’t go small for very many minutes overall.

There was some worry about Bogdanovic’ performance after Wednesday, but he bounced back strongly. And Mitchell showed some fight to keep the team close late.

I also thought the Jazz got an unfortunate whistle.

The Clippers got a lot right to win this: big threes from Marcus Morris and Patrick Beverley, clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch, and terrific effort throughout. It was a fun game, and if these two teams match up in the playoffs, it’ll be a close series — but one that the Jazz definitely have a great chance to win.

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