Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 128-112 win over the Sacramento Kings from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Donovan Mitchell is averaging 40 PPG over his last three games
So, that’s pretty good.
Tonight, he had 42 points, while not even having a spectacular game: he only shot 12-31 after all, only 3-12 from three. We’ve certainly seen a lot better.
And yet, even in just a “pretty good” game... he put up 42 points. That’s where we’re at with Mitchell right now, a player capable of carrying the heaviest offensive load possible and doing it well.
Tonight, the Jazz needed Mitchell to carry that load. With Sacramento switching every screen, the Jazz’s ball movement got a little bit stagnant. Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic didn’t have much isolation success, and Jordan Clarkson was out due to an ankle sprain, so they really needed Mitchell to be relatively efficient tonight even while taking a lot of shots.
And he was. Sure, the 3-point shot was inconsistent, but he had the drive game going. Richaun Holmes actually can block a decent number of shots — he’s seventh in the NBA this year in that category — but Mitchell uses his body well to prevent it here.
But really, the big key was getting to the free-throw line a whopping seventeen times. Take this play, for example: Moe Harkless is a relatively good defender, but he’s using the handcheck trick to try to slow Mitchell’s path to the rim. So Mitchell draws attention to the contact by gathering, then drawing the ball up underneath that arm. Now, it’s not just a side-out foul, either; it’s two free-throws.
Mitchell has a full bag of these tricks now, from pump-faking to verbal flopping to accentuating the contact that does occur. And that means, even when his shot is nowhere near its best, he can score 42 points. That’s a very useful skill.
2. Keeping the ball moving
That being said, Mitchell tricking opponents works best when playing, literally, the worst defense in league history. (At least, the Kings have the worst defensive rating in league history right now, though we’re in an offensive golden age.)
But even the Kings’ try at the switching defense really did stifle the Jazz a little, especially early on. There were so many possessions where the Jazz tried something, the Kings switched, and ended up having to force a bad shot.
I thought, to a large degree, Joe Ingles came in the game and changed this. He was the big thing that got the Jazz’s blender going again. As Snyder put it, the Jazz need to “really play with quick decisions and 0.5 second reads — not shot fake — and drive into a gap to get someone else a shot.” Ingles does all of those things.
“When you can’t really blow by anyone one on one, there’s no point in me holding the ball too long,” he said.
Ingles, in particular, said that Snyder had a conversation with Ingles a couple of years ago about how he could attack switches. He said Snyder pointed out that, even though he can’t blow by anyone, he can bend the defense through his drives, or a threat of a drive. Even if he starts going one or two steps into the arc, Snyder told him he has at least two options; turn and pitch the ball back, or take that further step and see what his options are for setting up a play. It’s almost never going to be about scoring himself.
The other thing is that the other Jazzmen started to move off the ball in productive ways after those switches. During the Jazz’s big early deficit, Snyder (according to Georges Niang) said that the team wasn’t doing anything to help Conley and Mitchell in their isolation plays. Instead, they needed to still give the iso scorer another option after the switch. Hence, something like this:
Again, this is a very bad defensive team they were playing tonight, so it won’t always be this easy. But it’s good that the Jazz have multiple answers in their toolbox for switching defenses.
3. De’Aaron Fox, Joe Ingles, and trash talking
“Somebody said something to Joe, and Joe gave an answer I haven’t heard in awhile. And when Joe gets angry, I get angry.”
That’s what Donovan Mitchell said after the game regarding the level of trash talking out there tonight, which was certainly unexpected in a random regular season Jazz/Kings game! But you can see some of it in the video here:
Ingles declined to say after the game what Fox said, or someone else said, that got him as riled up as he was. But Ingles wasn’t the only trash talker, Mitchell and Niang got in the mix too.
After the game, Fox talked about his frustration — but sent most of it the referees’ way. (Honestly, he was right about the refs. It was two of the same three officials as the Jazz had in the Portland game on Thursday, one of the worst refereed games of the season. This game was equally bad, quite frankly, but the Kings were the ones who were most disadvantaged tonight. I’m sure Fox and head coach Luke Walton will be fined for their comments later.)
Still, it’s this kind of thing that the Jazz needed in order to retain a little bit of an edge, especially defensively. The Jazz’s play early on was very lethargic, but the trash talking throughout woke them up, and they ended up winning the second half by 22 points. That’ll do.
““I, honestly, deep down inside, think it’s funny. It’s more of a comedy thing to me. But it lights up something within me — it makes the game fun,” Ingles said.
I’ll do my best to figure out what was said that made Joe so mad. No guarantees, but I’m just as curious as you.