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The Triple Team: Bogdanovic’s 48 points by the numbers; how Jazz’s defense improved from awful to great

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, right, defends against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, May 7, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 127-120 win over the Denver Nuggets from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Bogdanovic by the numbers

48 points in 23 shots is just a pretty ridiculous level of efficiency. Honestly, without that level of both efficiency and sheer output in this game, the Jazz are done and dusted, and lose to the Nuggets on Friday night.

It’s also, remarkably, the most points a Jazz player has scored in a regular season game since Karl Malone.

How did Bogdanovic get all of these points? To help break it down, I looked at Synergy Sports’ play-by-play to determine exactly what type of action he was doing while he got those points.

Bogdanovic scored:

• 12 points by shooting threes in transition, like this:

• Five points attacking the rim in transition, like this:

• Two threes (six points) coming off a screen to his right, like this:

• Five points by attacking the Nuggets in isolation, like this (what a basket!):

• Four points as a pick and roll ballhandler, like this:

• Five points scoring from other Jazz teammates’ pick and roll plays, like this:

• Seven points from the blender eventually finding him, like this:

• Two points from a post-up:

• Two points from a take foul at the end of the game.

I mean, that’s a pretty remarkable number of ways to score! This is the thing that’s always stood out to me about Bogdanovic’s game: he’s just such a versatile player that it makes him very effective, very hard to defend.

I think the above also shows how little the Jazz were forcing things to Bogdanovic. Even on a 48-point night, how many plays were run for him? The post-up certainly counts, as do the screen plays. His pick and roll baskets do too. But most of his 48 points were actually in the flow of the offense, either from his teammates or just simply being aggressive in transition.

By the end of the game, the Nuggets were just double-teaming him every time there was a screen, which led to points for others. It also prevented him from getting 50 points, but kept the Jazz afloat as they pulled away for the win. Just a really impressive performance from the Jazz’s — *checks notes* — fourth-leading scorer on the season.

2. Jazz defense tightens up

Bogdanovic’s outburst was awesome to watch. But do you know what was just as important?

The Jazz’s defense going from woeful to brilliant. The Jazz allowed 41 points in the first quarter, and it’s not as if the Nuggets were hitting tough shots, either — the Jazz were just giving up some really obvious stuff. Then they allowed 32 in the second quarter, 26 in the third, and then just 21 points in the fourth to come back and win the game.

In particular, they had real problems in guarding Michael Porter Jr. early. This is the play that will be on all the highlight reels, but Royce O’Neale just really lets Rudy Gobert down here. He’s not even close to Porter for the entire play, and in the end Gobert is worried about defending Jokic — by the time he rotates over, it’s too late.

In the fourth quarter, this got better. Miye Oni helped for sure, and showed an ability to stay on Porter’s hip. Even when he was screened, he gets this backside contest, forcing the miss.

It wasn’t just on Porter Jr, though: the Jazz’s defense on Jokic improved. I thought Gobert really battled late on Jokic. This is an absolutely incredible play for Gobert to attack the hook shot and block it so easily.

“I was able to anticipate what he was going to do,” Gobert said. “Once he gathered, I knew I was going to time it.”

Showing some modicum of defensive ability against the Nuggets is good, because obviously, they’ve really struggled at defending Denver over the last year. I’d like to see more consistency here, but dialing it in late and getting the win was still pretty impressive.

3. Jordan Clarkson’s defensive engagement means he finishes the game

Jordan Clarkson scored 21 points today, but it wasn’t his best shooting night: he went just 6-20 from the floor. But I liked how he turned up his defensive game late, getting two critical steals that really propelled the Jazz in the fourth quarter.

Here’s the first. Clarkson knows that he’s guarding former Jazzman Shaq Harrison, a non-shooter, so he can sink into the paint and break up the interior passing Denver’s so good at.

This may have been the play of the game here: Clarkson stayed engaged as he tracked Facundo Campazzo, getting an extra hand in on Jokic to get the key steal

Then, I liked how he stayed in control in the transition possession, finding Bogdanovic for a huge three.

His defense late was good enough that the Jazz could afford to end the game with Clarkson out on the floor instead of O’Neale. The Jazz weren’t getting out-rebounded, and were getting stops with Clarkson on the floor, so why not keep him out there as an extra offensive threat?

In the end, Clarkson hit the key three in the game’s final minute to give them the two-possession lead that they’d never relinquish. But it was that he contributed in other ways that allowed him to be on the floor in the first place.

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