The Triple Team: Jazz beat Grizzlies again behind Mitchell’s effortless control of the offense

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and Utah Jazz center Derrick Favors (15) talk play during a timeout as the Utah Jazz host the Memphis Grizzlies, Mar. 27, 2021 at Vivint Arena.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 126-110 win against the Memphis Grizzlies from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Game slowing down for Donovan Mitchell

It was one of the best games of Donovan Mitchell’s career. He scored 35 points on 12-17 shooting, including 5-7 from three and 6-6 from the free-throw line. Oh, he added seven assists to the mix too.

Players have good shooting nights and bad shooting nights, but I thought that all of Mitchell’s possessions showed a level of control over the game that sometimes, he doesn’t necessarily show. It wasn’t that Mitchell was faster than anyone else on this night, or jumped higher than anyone else — but it was that he consistently was getting good looks that he’s very capable of making at a high level.

Friend and teammate Royce O’Neale put it well: Mitchell was getting to his spots.

First on the list of successes was the pull-up jumper, both in midrange and from three. This is just so calm, collected, and easy for Mitchell at this point.

It’s also good offense: Mitchell is shooting 36.4% from three on pull-ups this season; that’s a higher percentage than Damian Lillard’s 34.8 (though Lillard takes three more per game.) That’s a 109 offensive rating on those shots, while the Jazz typically have a 101.7 offensive rating on half-court possessions. Not much risk of a turnover on a pull-up three, either, and there certainly is the chance of drawing free throws.

He did the same in his playmaking possessions, too. Mitchell is pretty casually attacking this screen, because he sees what’s going on: Jonas Valanciunas is switched on Royce O’Neale, and the best way the Jazz can take advantage of it is to suck him into the paint, his natural habitat. He can get what he wants without ever leaving second gear.

That last play is a great example of something Quin Snyder said he was proud of Mitchell for doing: understanding the situation on the floor. He saw the mismatch, and found this way to attack it.

“The amount of shots that he took says a lot about the reads he was making during the course of possession. I think it starts in the backcourt where he’s seeing the floor as he’s receiving the ball,” Snyder said. “And that allows him to just read the floor and see where guys are and position the ball where where it needs to be, and also to attack.”

There is something to be said that it might not be this easy in the playoffs, but even in the playoffs, this is what superstar-caliber players do: they take their time, find their spots, manipulate the defense, and make the right play. And heck, it’s not like Mitchell’s performance in playoff situations is really in doubt, anyway.

Mitchell was in total control of tonight’s game, and the result was a Jazz blowout win.

2. Jazz against zone

After getting demolished in the first quarter by a score of 39-19, the Grizzlies went to a zone defense in the second quarter, and to some success, cutting the lead to nine at one point. This was smart, and the Jazz did struggle with it at first.

But there are a number of different ways you can be successful at attacking the zone. This is a really basic one: you know that the zone doesn’t want to allow simple ball penetration, so you screen the zone man for the ballhandler, forcing the other player at the top to sink in. Then kick it out to a confident shooter, it could be cash money.

Once you’ve set that up, you can manipulate the zone to think that pass is coming, then attack the interior. These are two very easy points set up by a pretty simple pass fake.

Or, you can overload the zone. Here, the Jazz have three players in a telephone booth up at the top, but Georges Niang splits out at the last moment. Who should guard him? It’s not clear, and he gets a quick and open look for three.

Usually, just taking those arc shots confidently is the key to breaking down a zone: if you don’t, then the zone can reset, and they can wind down the shot clock pretty quickly as you just pass the ball around the perimeter.

Overall, the Grizzlies ran 27 zone possessions in the game, and limited the Jazz to 25 points in those possessions — certainly much better than the man defense was doing for the Grizzlies. But the Jazz did start to take advantage of it after a little while, and showed versatility in doing so.

3. Royce’s help in pick and roll

After focusing on Royce O’Neale’s rebounding in last night’s game, I thought he made a few superlative plays on the defensive end tonight that definitely were worth noting, plays that were critical in forcing Ja Morant to have a tough night after a sensational contest on Friday.

First, this is just seamless communication between O’Neale and Favors. Favors steps up to prevent Morant from having the easy mid-range look, but that necessitates that O’Neale take away the pocket pass. He does.

But man, this play was just crazy. Morant puts O’Neale in jail, forcing Gobert to help. Morant jumps, then drops it off to Valanciunas, but O’Neale recovers down low to get the steal — actually, it’s credited as a block because JV was going up for the shot at the time.

This is what the Jazz’s defense asks their defenders to do: funnel plays to the big man, then stay engaged throughout the possession so that the pass isn’t as easy as it looks. O’Neale plays that role well. The key is less about staying in front as it is staying connected.

It’ll be interesting to see if he ends up on an All-Defense team. Early on in the season, I was critical of his defensive play, as he really struggled to stay attached to the Jamal Murrays and the Kyrie Irvings of the world. But he’s been a big part of the Jazz’s run since then, and deserves recognition for that.