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The Triple Team: The great, the good and the bad of Jordan Clarkson defines Jazz vs. Warriors

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson, right, shoots against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) and forward Juan Toscano-Anderson (95) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Monday, May 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 119-116 loss to the Golden State Warriors from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. That’s the most Jordan Clarkson game of all time

What a wacky performance by Jordan Clarkson. He was playing the most damaging basketball in the first three quarters of that game, and then scored 24 points and carried the Jazz back in it all by himself in the final quarter. His final line: 16-33 FG, 41 points, 0 assists, a -17.

No other player was worse than a -5, so -17 does really stand out.

Honestly, he was hugely responsible for the Jazz getting the initial deficit. During halftime, assistant coach Mike Wells talked about how the team needed to make what Quin Snyder calls 0.5 second decisions. Clarkson was the most frequent problem, with a lot of looping half-drives that didn’t amount to good shots.

I could probably show you 10 of these.

And then he got pretty ridiculously hot. I think the Warriors were a little bit more lax on him defensively, but he also started to make some of the tough looks he was taking. The whole thing can be found in this highlight video below:

Clarkson even said he felt like the shots he was taking in the first half were easier than the ones he took in the second half. I’m not sure I agree, but it does speak to his mindset: he’s just going to get up shots, no matter what his previous performance was. I actually love that mentality.

Clarkson’s comeback was legitimately impressive, and there aren’t a lot of players who can score 24 points in a quarter, as he did. He then did miss the final three shots, but he thought he got fouled on the first, I thought he got fouled on the second, and the third was kind of an emergency situation.

Okay, so in the end, was Clarkson a net positive or a net negative? “Give us your final hot take, Andy!,” I hear you all saying.

So Clarkson scored 41 points in 33 shots. On one extra possession, he got to the free throw line. On two extra possessions, he turned it over. That’s 1.13 points per possession. The Jazz were 1.19 PPP on the other possessions. Bad game!

Just kidding. Look, there’s no way that those Clarkson possessions used would have been as efficient as their normal possessions: many of them were at the end of the clock, many of them were half-court. Many of them came with no spacing on the floor, with Trent Forrest out there. Because of the Warriors’ switching, Ingles pick and roll wasn’t going to be very effective.

I think you take 1.13 PPP from your leading shooter and you’re pretty happy with it. But man, what an up-and-down game — a whole lot of good, a whole lot of bad. The most Jordan Clarkson game ever.

2. Defense on Steph

The Jazz were in a really tough spot in this game. They had to defend supernova Steph.

Coming into this game, for the last month, Curry had average 37.8 points, 4.9 assists, and 3.9 turnovers per game on 50.4% shooting from the field, 47.2% shooting from 3, and 90% shooting from the free-throw line. Pretty ridiculous!

Oh, and the Jazz were coming into this game without their quick-guard defender, Mike Conley. Conley, by far, is the Jazz’s best defensive option against these waterbug guards, but the Jazz have been starting Joe Ingles at the point guard. Royce O’Neale got the start against Curry, but we’ve talked a lot about his issues with speedy guards.

Tonight, Curry had 36 points on 11-25 shooting (44%), 3-13 from three, and 11-12 from the free-throw line, along with six assists and three turnovers. Overall, somewhat less efficient from the field than he normally is, but with the cost of extra free throws and one more assist. Honestly, given the personnel available, you’ll probably take it.

But the Jazz had this very average level of success against him due to their scheme: they played extremely high on the ball, essentially trapping Curry off of pick and rolls. Sometimes, that worked brilliantly:

Sometimes, it resulted in the Warriors getting free looks at the rim in a 4-on-3.

I think the basic difference between those two plays is how close O’Neale and Niang are able to get to Curry — O’Neale’s arms are in the play in the first one, but not the second one.

The Jazz also showed another wrinkle: when the Warriors played with Draymond Green at center, they had Rudy Gobert guard someone else. The idea here is that, if you’re going to trap 35 feet away, you should do it so that you still have the DPOY guarding the paint in that 4-on-3.

I think that makes sense, but I think the other way is worth trying, too. Essentially, it’s a calculation: Gobert’s long arms prevent some points by preventing 4-on-3s from happening, when he’s trapping by denying the ball and getting steals and all of that. But if you have him on the floor, you can also prevent points by making those ensuing 4-on-3s harder.

If the Jazz do end up facing the Warriors in the first round, I suspect we see both looks at different times during the series. Of course, we’ll also just see better defense, period, thanks to the “acquisition” of Conley.

3. Defense with Derrick

Look, it’s not all Derrick Favors’ fault. But I am concerned about the Jazz’s defense with Favors on the floor.

Since the All-Star break, the Jazz have a 99 defensive rating on the court with Rudy Gobert out there, and a 114.2 defensive rating with Favors out there. Tonight, the gap was higher — a 130 defensive rating with Favors on the floor, compared to 106 with Gobert.

Was this really on Favors? I don’t know, he was put in some tough positions. Like, this isolation drive from Kent Bazemore. Should he do better here? Maybe?

The Jazz also had Favors guard a perimeter player when Draymond was at center, just like Gobert. Should Favors do more to impact this play? I guess he’s in the game to be rim protector, so probably? But he’s not really defending his man either. He’s just kind of floating in space. But he’s not really at fault here either.

Or this one. Favors is moving all over the floor, and eventually finds himself getting to stop a Bazemore drive a half-second late. Is it a foul? Eh. But it’s not definitely not a foul, either: Favors was beat to the spot.

This is where I basically come down on it: I think I naturally compare Favors to one of the best defenders of all time, the guy who plays in front of him. Favors, meanwhile, is essentially an average NBA center defensively at this point — a lot better than Tony Bradley, but not really enough to keep defensive lineups afloat the way he used to. He’s not going to be a great mover at this point, and he’s not tall or bouncy enough to be a great rim protector anymore.

Against teams with a traditional backup 5, I think he’ll be terrific in the playoffs. Denver, Portland, Lakers, Clippers, Favors will be great. Mavericks, Suns, Warriors? I start to worry a little bit about his playing time, and whether it could go to someone like Ersan Ilyasova instead — who also isn’t a tremendously quick defender, but at least spaces the floor on the other end.

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