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Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 124-109 win over the Orlando Magic from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Donovan Mitchell’s second-half play
For the fourth consecutive year, Donovan Mitchell is scoring more in the second half than in the first half.
Interestingly, this year, he’s doing that despite getting fewer minutes and fewer shots in the second half than in the first half — undoubtedly that’s because the Jazz have been part of so many blowouts this year.
But he makes up for it by being much more efficient in the second half. Tonight, that was definitely the case — Mitchell only had six points at halftime, but scored 25 in the second half to turn that 4-point halftime lead into a blowout.
Mitchell explained it pretty simply: it does take a little bit of time for him to figure out what the defense is doing and know how to beat it.
“I think the biggest thing is just finding out how they’re guarding me. You know, I had a few lapses in the first half, two bad shots, and then it was kind of saying, ‘OK, this is what I see,’” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t about making and missing, it was about what I was seeing in the coverages.”
Tonight, I think it took him a little bit of time to realize how much he could beat Evan Fournier one-on-one. Fournier isn’t known as a tenacious defender, which means Mitchell could get separation on screens like this.
Fournier is honestly also pretty slight, which means that Mitchell has the opportunity to use his size to get all the way to the rim — especially if the Jazz are doing some other distracting stuff that makes the defense’s help less focused.
Clearly, Mitchell’s second-half bursts have been useful. Just look at that plus-minus next to his name in the second half this year. When he‘s on the court in the second half, good things are usually happening for the Jazz.
2. Jazz stop Terrence Ross by playing aggressive defense on him
As you know, usually the Jazz play a drop-big style of defense: the Jazz have Rudy Gobert sink down low in the paint and try to induce the other team to take a lot of midrange-y stuff, or, even more unwisely, attack Gobert at the rim.
But some players make you change your defense. While he’s not a household name, Terrence Ross is certainly one of them — the Jazz lost a game against the Magic two seasons ago just because Ross had such tremendous scoring success in the fourth quarter.
So the Jazz had Gobert play up high on pick and rolls, while the Jazz sunk way off of one of the Magic’s perimeter shooters so that Nikola Vucevic couldn’t get free down low. Take a look at where Gobert and Mitchell are in this play:
Mitchell feels 100% comfortable in sinking in the paint off Chasson Randle, even though he’s only one pass away. And you see why once the pass is delivered: he’s never even considering shooting this ball. After all, he’s a 27% 3-point shooter this year.
This meant that Ross went just 4-16 from the floor tonight — he’s the kind of player that doesn’t let the fact that he’s not open prevent him from shooting. And because of that, the Jazz won the game.
It’s a nice dance that the Jazz can get away with because the Magic are such a poor shooting team. Tonight, the Jazz gave them some open ones, and they probably still made more than expectation. Yet, the Magic only took 34 threes, not enough to really make the Jazz pay.
It’s good defense and good scouting from the Jazz, and poor roster building from Orlando.
3. Jazz playing without a traditional point guard
Mike Conley didn’t play tonight due to hamstring management — essentially, they’re going to be super careful with him on back-to-backs, just like they were last year. That meant that, once again, Donovan Mitchell was the Jazz’s starting point guard, with Joe Ingles typically playing backup PG.
You know, it reminds me of something Dennis Lindsey said in the first couple of years of his tenure as general manager. I can’t find the quote from years ago, but he said that he felt that this market (Utah) demanded a traditional point guard because of the success of John Stockton and Deron Williams, even though the league was going away from that archetype a little bit.
What resulted was honestly a rotating cavalcade of point guards who largely disappointed. Trey Burke and Dante Exum were the two biggest, but even down the depth chart, guys like Jamaal Tinsley and John Lucas III were not exactly bright spots.
Now, though, the Jazz have essentially only one traditional point guard on the roster: Conley. Trent Forrest is, I suppose, but he’s on a two-way contract and never plays. Instead, the Jazz get what a traditional point guard delivers — playmaking and leadership — through other players.
“I do think that there’s been an evolution in the game. Some of it has to do with the spacing on the floor and the way people are playing,” Quin Snyder said. “There isn’t as much kind of half court basketball where, you know, you have a quarterback, so to speak.”
For a while there, certainly under Ty Corbin but also initially under Snyder, the Jazz kind of played an anachronistic style of basketball. The Favors/Gobert lineups were stuck with, and it wasn’t until last year that the Jazz kind of modernized a little bit.
Of course, now they’re at the forefront of the league stylistically, and part of that is playing pretty position-less basketball: I don’t know or really care who is playing point guard, or shooting guard, or small forward, or power forward, at any given time. There’s a center, and then there are perimeter players who can do it all. The versatility is powerful.