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The Triple Team: Jazz out-Spurs the Spurs with consistency of execution on both ends, regain No. 1 seed

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Joe Ingles (2) sets up a basket in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs at Vivint Smart Home Arena, on Wednesday, May 5, 2021.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 126-94 win over the San Antonio Spurs from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz dominate Spurs, again

You know, it’s kind of wild that the Jazz did that.

The Spurs are not a bad team, basically .500. They had just pretty easily beaten the Spurs on Monday night, but San Antonio got the chance to rest in a comfortable Grand America hotel room Monday night, hang around Tuesday, sleep in again on Tuesday night, and get ready for the game today. They would have had the chance to watch film, learn about how the Jazz demolished them, and then fixed those problems. Gregg Popovich is obviously a terrific coach, and usually has his teams playing in tip-top shape.

And the Jazz just smacked them, owning a 22-point lead by the early part of the second quarter.

Quin Snyder said that those second games against an opponent in quick succession can test your level of execution, but the Jazz really passed that with flying colors, and on both ends of the floor.

First, the offense. The Jazz did a really nice job tonight in creating shots for one another, running the offense with precision and without hiccups. This isn’t quite a 3-man weave play, but it’s almost the same idea: a lot of passes in short succession, distracting the defense from the quick pick-and-roll, with seamless continuity between every part of the action.

Snyder was most proud of his team’s defense, he usually is. But it’s stuff like this that’s good: Georges Niang fights above the screen, blowing up the first part of the Spurs’ play. Then when it’s time for Keldon Johnson to run pick and roll, he comes off the screen, sees Gobert contesting, has Ingles contesting from the backside, and misses a 21-footer the Jazz will be happy to see him take.

I think the downside is that this rhythm isn’t really transferable to later on in the season or the playoffs — too much will be different with Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell back. But for the time being, it’s nice to have easy wins to rack up on nights like tonight.

2. Jazz’s offense in transition

The Jazz are in competition for the league’s best offensive transition team, at least, if you believe Cleaning The Glass. Which you should, it’s a good stats website.

They don’t run super-duper frequently: 14.7% of the time, or 15th in the NBA. But when they do, they’re wildly efficient when they do run: they score 133.7 points per play — No. 1 in the league, and well more than the average 125.7. The overall picture puts them No. 2 in the league in terms of points created through transition play, about 3.6 points per 100 possessions. (No. 1 is the Ja Morant-fueled Memphis Grizzlies.)

But tonight, they were even more efficient: 191.7 points per 100 possessions in their transition opportunities. That’ll do!

How did they do this? By attacking weak defenders at the right times, in ways subtle and obvious.

Check this out, the second basket of the game. Bojan Bogdanovic sees that he’s being defended by Devin Vassell, who actually is a decent defender. But Rudy Gobert is down low, and being guarded by DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan, a guard, isn’t going to be very good at helping in this situation unless he commits to the double team, and in that case, Gobert would have an easy dunk.

So Bogdanovic takes advantage of being defended one-on-one, and gets the easy basket.

Hey, speaking of that, this time, Bogdanovic sees Rudy Gay guarding him, backpedaling, without much help defense around. He just attacks, and it’s an easy two.

And sometimes in transition, teams get confused on who’s guarding who. Sometimes, they don’t even guard the guy who literally had an ESPN article today about being one of the most efficient shooters in NBA history.

Look at Joe Ingles’ look in visible confusion at the Spurs’ bench. “This? This is what you’re doing?”

It’s something that’s been an emphasis for Quin Snyder all year: running when they have the opportunity. Tonight, they capitalized really well, but it was just a microcosm of the rest of the season.

3. No. 1 seed, again

Thanks to the Jazz winning this game easily, and the Suns losing to the Hawks by 32, the Jazz are once again in control of the No. 1 seed. If they win out, they get it.

The Jazz have six games remaining. Here they are, along with the 538 probability of the Jazz winning:

• vs. Nuggets — 68%

• vs. Rockets — 94%

• @ Warriors — 62%

• vs. Blazers — 76%

• @ Thunder — 88%

• @ Kings — 71%

Meanwhile, here’s the Suns’ schedule:

• vs. Knicks — 79%

• @ Lakers — 45%

• @ Warriors — 62%

• vs. Blazers — 71%

• @ Spurs — 65%

• @ Spurs — 64%

So, some thoughts:

• First of all, I do not think that the Spurs have a 35% chance to win those games at the end. Something, and I don’t know what, tells me that the Spurs don’t look very good against elite teams in back-to-back contests near or at the end of the season. (On the other hand, the Spurs might be fighting for their play-in lives. Maybe they fight harder than they did this week?)

• I think the Jazz shouldn’t really be considered favorites against the Nuggets on Friday. The Nuggets are playing their best basketball right now, and the Jazz will still be missing Donovan Mitchell and almost certainly Mike Conley. It will be very hard for them to score against the Nuggets, in my opinion.

• That Suns/Lakers contest is really interesting. The Lakers may well be without LeBron James, but they’ll definitely want to win at home to try to stay out of the play-in game.

• Both teams have a game in Golden State — it will be very interesting to see how the Jazz guard Steph Curry without their guards.

Again, it’s not even clear which of the No. 1 vs. No. 2 seeds you even really want: the other seeds are too jumbled, and the Nuggets are playing their best basketball at their most injured. But the race is heating up to be intriguing, anyway.

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