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The Triple Team: Jazz might have been a little fortunate to have a lead, but played well enough to beat the Bulls

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) looks to pass, as Chicago Bulls center Daniel Theis (27) defends, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Chicago Bulls, at Vivint Arena, on Friday, April 2, 2021.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 113-106 win over the Chicago Bulls from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz might have gotten away with one there

I don’t think the Jazz played a very good game against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night, but they got the win anyway.

Here were my gripes:

• Transition defense. This was covered well by my colleague Eric Walden in his story, but quite frankly, there were too many times when the Jazz jogged back in transition. This, for example, is terrible floor balance; the Jazz can’t have four players down within five feet of the baseline. Then, it’s terrible effort to get back... in the end, Donovan Mitchell has to flop because he has no other recourse to save the possession.

• Post defense. The Jazz didn’t defend Thaddeus Young in the post well — as Quin Snyder pointed out after the game, they had problems with a simple cross-screen and then let him get the ball too close to the basket. Nor did they execute their help defense in post situations, either.

• Regular ol’ “just defend your guy” defense. There are two open cuts on this play within two seconds, as the Jazz’s perimeter players don’t track their matchup.

• A missed sense of timing on the offensive end. I thought the Jazz kind of jogged through their sets. Mitchell seemed to be a little bit rusty — in recent games, he’s been so good at finding the slivers of space and exploiting them, but after the game off, I thought there would be an attacking moment, he’d let it slip, and then attack in tough situations in the first half. He was certainly better in half No. 2.

So what saved the Jazz? Well, first, they’re really good at basketball shots. They had numerous circus shots go down, key plays that gave the Jazz leads or extended them. They also got a little lucky: the Bulls would fight among themselves for a rebound and end up tipping it right to a Jazz player, or dive on the floor for a loose ball only for the ref to call a dubious foul. The Bulls also shot very poorly from the perimeter on the night; a 35% shooting performance would have meant a different result.

Overall, there was a lot here that Snyder can discuss with his guys, and they ended up with a win. Not too bad of an outcome, really.

2. I loved what the Jazz did down the stretch offensively

At times, the Jazz have been really predictable on offense down the stretch of games: sometimes, the game can look like “give the ball to Donovan Mitchell, and let him go to work in isolation or pick and roll.”

But tonight, the Jazz ran the same set with different looks down the stretch, keeping the Bulls on their toes and giving the Jazz multiple different chances to score in one possession.

The set involves Mitchell with the ball in his hands, then two other Jazzmen bunched at the free-throw line: Rudy Gobert and one ballhandler. Then, they do some stuff, which hopefully leads to a good shot.

What’s the “some stuff?” Well, it depends. The first time they run it, it’s with Bojan Bogdanovic in the middle. Bogey comes around a Gobert screen and gets open for three. I think this qualifies as a good shot.

The second time they run it, Mike Conley comes out of the pack, setting a screen for Mitchell. That lets him end up going downhill, which he eventually takes advantage of.

The third time they run it, Conley pops out for the ball, which flows into a pick and roll with Gobert. Conley kicks it out to Royce O’Neale, who ends up not being open enough for the shot. So he throws it back out to Mitchell, who still has enough time to run a pick-and-roll with Mitchell. That ends up getting an open Conley three.

I like it! It keeps defenses on their toes, not necessarily knowing what happens. That last video (stuttery as it may be) shows why I like it most: you get the chance to run the play with an advantage and see what you get. If it’s nothing, you still have time to run the old-school Mitchell pick and roll like you might have anyway. You might as well check if you can get an easy look first, though.

3. Timeout timing?

Timeout timing is not a huge deal that defines a team throughout a season — or even defined the team’s success in a game, but I thought Billy Donovan had a couple of questionable timeouts tonight that show maybe what not to do as a coach.

The first one came with just 23 seconds to go in the first half. He was understandably mad about his own team’s transition defense, that just had allowed the Jazz to score easily. Undoubtedly, they were on a run, and it would have made sense to call a timeout there at most points in the game. But with less than 24 seconds left in the half, the Bulls were going to get the final look at the basket anyway, the run couldn’t get any worse than it was. Why not save that timeout for later in the game?

The second one came with 28.5 seconds left in the second half and the Bulls down 6. Zach LaVine rebounded a Bogdanovic miss with 34.3 seconds left, and then Donovan waited until LaVine dribbled the ball down the court to call the timeout. I thought Donovan had two better choices:

1) With Bogdanovic still on the floor after the play, the Bulls were essentially in a 5-on-4 situation. If they wanted to score, I thought their best odds were by taking quick advantage of the extra man and the scrambling defense.

2) Or, if they wanted to take a timeout, they really needed to as soon as LaVine rebounded the ball. Down 6, the Bulls’ best chance was a 2-for-1 involving two threes: a quick three make, a stout defensive possession, and then another three. But once you take that timeout with 28 seconds left, it’s essentially impossible to do that... even if you shoot as quickly as possible, the ball is going through the hoop with 26 seconds left, and then you’re out of luck in terms of getting it back.

The second timeout looked a lot better because Donovan’s play worked, freeing Nikola Vucevic for a three. But I still thought it was questionable.

By the way, in general, Quin Snyder’s timeout tactics seem to be pretty good. Essentially, he calls timeout if the Jazz screw up in transition defense — an “oh, you guys must be either tired or lazy, but either way, this isn’t good” timeout, or there’s something clearly wrong schematically that he needs to address, or if he is about to be forced to use it anyway.

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