Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 119-111 win over the Indiana Pacers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz flip the switch defensively
First of all, the major story of this game is Donovan Mitchell’s ankle injury. Eric Walden has all the details on that here.
But as much as one game can matter, this was a relatively impressive win — one where the Jazz had zero juice early, and then were able to flip the switch completely in order to win the game. After allowing 69 points in the first half, they allowed just 42 in the second half.
The biggest thing was communication. In the first half, the Jazz never could decide who was responsible for defending players in their in-between moments. As you know, the Jazz’s defense is built on perimeter pressure to prevent threes, then staying connected if the opposing player drives in order to force them to Rudy Gobert.
Gobert has a lot of tough decisions, then: should he help, or should he leave Domantas Sabonis, the most dangerous player on the Pacers? It’s hard to know, for example, in this situation: Royce O’Neale seems to sort of have Caris LeVert well-defended, until he doesn’t, and it’s an easy layup.
The Jazz are obviously an excellent half-court defensive team, but when they are poor, that’s often the slip-up: at that point of indecision. I think, in general, Gobert helping more is probably when the Jazz are best, but I get why it’s difficult to always do it.
In the second half, Gobert was absolutely, incredibly dominant. He had four blocks in the second half after none in the first, and was just generally everywhere. It’s actually Mitchell who gets this strip, but look at the difference: Gobert is willing to leave Sabonis and just chase down the drive from 20 feet away.
You can help earlier, too. With Gobert containing the perimeter, the Pacers then look to Sabonis on the roll. Look at how quickly Gobert sprints over to get in front, surprising Sabonis, who then gets pulverized on the block.
So then the Pacers thought: okay, if Gobert’s facing up to contain that perimeter player, let’s take advantage of that. Rather than passing, they could start to drive, force Gobert to switch, and then bring him back out. After that, the scorer can try to take advantage of the speed differential.
This is so good, pals. Just elite. That’s a really nice move by Malcolm Brogdon to get past Gobert, get him off balance just a little bit, and Gobert stays with him the whole way anyway and gets the block. Bonkers-level defense.
I’m not sure that I like just how the Jazz needed to flip the defensive switch on. But when they did — man alive, did they ever eat the Pacers up.
2. Ersan Ilyasova doesn’t impress at backup center
With Derrick Favors out, Ersan Ilyasova got the chance to play backup center minutes. After starting his career as a small forward, the league has changed so much around Ilyasova (and, well, he’s gotten slow enough) that backup center is probably a logical place for him to receive minutes. Crazy.
Well, except that it didn’t actually work. Ilyasova’s trademark defensive thing is taking charges: he’s taken drastically more than anyone in the NBA in the last five years. So here, he tries to take one.
I don’t think it’s actually a good idea, first of all: he leaves an open corner shooter one pass away. But then he gets there and fouls Brogdon — there wasn’t a whistle, but yeah, that’s a foul. He doesn’t get the loose ball, and then Sabonis gets an easy layup opportunity, due to the lack of defensive effort. That somehow misses, but Ilyasova isn’t there for the rebound, and Brogdon ends up scoring by the end.
And that’s kind of the problem with Ilyasova at center — he’s not giving you rim protection, he isn’t really quick enough that you feel good about switching him all the time, and he’s not a great rebounder. You’re just kind of hoping to score enough on one end to make up for it, but it’s not clear that can happen.
So Ilyasova’s seven first half minutes were split among Miye Oni and Juwan Morgan in the second half — in fact, Gobert played 21 of the game’s final 24 minutes. Morgan actually did look a little quicker and more comfortable in a switch everything defense, and Clarkson and Conley were skilled enough to score without the defense necessarily respecting Morgan’s shot.
My sense is that Morgan is likely to continue to be better than Ilyasova, but I’m an admitted Morgan fan. I think it’s worth checking to see if Ilyasova still has an NBA-level pulse and can shake the rust off, but at 34 by the time the playoffs roll around, it’s possible this is just the end of the line for him.
But again, that’s what’s nice about the NBA’s regular season: you get a lot of chances to make these kind of comparisons. The Jazz will certainly continue to have that.
3. Without Donovan Mitchell, who gets his shots?
So, after Donovan Mitchell went down with what seemed to be a relatively severe ankle sprain, what will the Jazz look like during his absence — however long it ends up being?
First, I think it’s important to recognize just how big of a load Mitchell was taking over the last few months. Here’s a shocking stat: Mitchell led the NBA in shots per game since February 1. Given the amount of offensive support he has, from Conley to Clarkson, Bogdanovic to Ingles, that’s pretty amazing!
That’s over 22 shots per game that the Jazz need to replace. So how do you begin to do it?
Conley’s about 3.3 FGA less than his Memphis career-highs, so let’s give him those. Bogdanovic is taking about 3 FGA less than he did last season, let’s give him back those three. Ingles figures to play a few more minutes, and he’s 2 FGA below his career-high. There’s eight of them.
Whoever ends up playing more minutes in Mitchell’s absence will get some shots up: Georges Niang, Miye Oni, maybe even Jarrell Brantley will probably put up a few shots in their extra minutes.
You have to imagine Clarkson plays a bigger role for the team now, but he was already at his career high in shots per game. Still, I don’t think that Clarkson is at any kind of limit in terms of the number of shots he can take... I think he’s going to be just fine with more opportunities to shoot.
And given that Mitchell was the pick-and-roll passer least likely to lob Gobert and Favors, I think those guys will get an extra look or two per game, just as Clarkson, Ingles, Conley, and Bogdanovic run more pick and rolls.
Overall, though, it’s going to be fascinating. The Jazz’s offense often feels like it’s being rescued by Mitchell’s brilliance, but at other times, it also can feel bogged-down to his ball dominance. What does a Mitchell-less Jazz team look like over the course of multiple games? How will they handle clutch moments? We’re going to get the chance to see.