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The Triple Team: Mike Conley beats six different types of pick-and-roll defense in order to push Jazz to terrific offensive night vs. Grizzlies

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) takes the ball to the ihoop, as Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas (17) and Memphis Grizzlies guard Grayson Allen (3) defend, in NBA Playoff game 2, between the Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies at Vivint Arena, on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.

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Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 141-129 playoff win over the Memphis Grizzlies from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Pick and roll dominance from Mike Conley

The Jazz had 61 pick and roll plays in that game, per Synergy Sports. They scored 83 points on them, good for 1.31 points per possession. The Jazz’s ability to just score and score again through pick and roll allowed them to outscore the Grizzlies to the tune of 141 points — enough to get a win on an iffy defensive night.

But gosh, they were good at the play tonight, picking apart the Grizzlies. Quin Snyder called pick and roll schemes the “lifeblood of our league.” The Grizzlies tried nearly every type of coverage against the play, and honestly, Mike Conley diagnosed them all and beat them all. He had 15 assists next to only two turnovers, reflective of how he was absolutely terrific in making decisions.

Let’s break down some different types of pick and roll defense, and how Conley beat all of them.

Pick and roll defense type No. 1: dropping the big man.

After the guard defender is screened, the big man drops into the paint, preventing the layup at the rim and also the lob pass to the big man. The guard scrambles to catch up, but the defense allows a pull-up jumper or floater.

Conley had three of these floaters tonight, along with his other shots, to help break this style of defense.

Pick and roll defense type No. 2: helping from the corner.

After the guard defender is screened, the big man stays with the ball-handler, leaving the rolling big man open. In order to stop the lob pass, the man defending the corner 3-point shooter drops into the paint.

Yep, that’s easy enough — pass delivered on time and on target.

Pick and roll defense type No. 3: helping from the wing

Similar to No. 2, except it’s the wing defender who shades in towards the pick and roll, stopping the ball-handler from getting penetration while allowing the big man to stay back. However, the wing offensive player is open for a split second.

No problem. Conley sees the help, and delivers the pass.

Pick and roll defense type No. 4: blitz the ball-handler.

After the guard defender is screened, the big man comes up and essentially attacks the ball-handler with limbs everywhere, basically daring the guard to try to pass it through them to the rolling big man.

Conley did this repeatedly, especially late in the game, as the Grizzlies tried to get Jazz turnovers to continue their run. But Conley was too effective at making the pass through for easy dunks and layups.

Pick and roll defense type No. 5: “ice” the ball-handler.

This type of defense is run on side pick-and-rolls — the idea here is to prevent the ball-handler from getting to the middle of the court, where he has all of his options available. So the guard defender jumps to prevent the screen from being used at all, keeping the guard in the corner.

But Conley handles it perfectly; spinning quickly back baseline and using the temporary 2-on-1 for an easy Gobert dunk.

Pick and roll defense type No. 6: switch the screen.

This one’s the simplest: the defenders just switch to avoid the screen altogether.

This is a small/small pick-and-roll, but Clarkson still rolls to the basket. But Conley takes advantage of the matchup on Grayson Allen and nails the three over the slow-to-react defender.

Look, that’s six different looks that the Grizzlies gave Conley on pick and roll plays. Six! And Conley diagnosed every single one of them, found the open man, or scored himself.

“They threw a lot of different coverages,” Conley said. “Me, Rudy, Fav, Don, I mean, all of us have just kind of locked in our mind of what we’re going to see and how we’re going to execute in those times.”

The Jazz could reliably go to pick and roll and get a good look, and in a game where they needed to be efficient on offense, the key was Conley’s ability to read and react every time. A terrific performance.

[Read more: Early fourth-quarter moments showed difference between contending Jazz, new-kid Grizzlies]

2. Jazz’s defense on Ja Morant

Ja Morant scored 47 points — obviously, way too many. What happened?

First, look at Morant’s shot chart, and where he got his points from:

Ja Morant shot chart, Jazz vs. Grizzlies Game 2. (NBA.com)

There are too many baskets at the rim, and then a lot of baskets from about 10 feet out. The rim ones are most worrying; this kind of thing can’t happen. Conley gets shook here.

The 10-footers are sometimes fine, and sometimes not. This is too easy:

And this is just a good shot that’s well contested, you tip your hat as an opponent:

What’s the difference? How aggressively Morant attacks, how quickly the guard defender (either Conley or Royce O’Neale) gets around that screen, and how the big man defends it. What makes him such a good scorer is how quickly he gets up, surprising the defense, while staying in control.

Tonight, Morant felt way, way too comfortable in the paint area, and I think it’s worth evaluating to see if the Jazz can do more to get the big man closer and more responsive to the floater threat, given how many he made tonight.

The biggest problem, honestly, was the fouls. The Jazz sent Morant to the line 20 times, way, way too many. They weren’t disciplined when they were following him around the screen, and they allowed him to bait them into easy off-ball fouls when in the bonus.

That’s just dumb, and not something the Jazz usually do: they were the second-best team in the league this year at not sending their opponents to the free-throw line. I expect that to improve.

I do think, though, that the Jazz have a real weakness in screen navigation on defense, and so I do expect that either Morant will get his, or they’ll start to send more help from the wings. Truthfully, against this Memphis team, I’d like to see more of the latter, given how iffy they are at shooting from outside at times.

3. How are we feeling about this team?

Overall, the Jazz are still definitely favored in the series, despite giving up homecourt advantage by losing Game 1. Even before winning tonight, Vegas had them as -325 favorites to end up winning the series, about a 76% probability. After winning Game 2, I bet that jumps to 85% or so.

And yet, it hasn’t been the domination you’d expect to see out of a No. 1 seed against a youthful No. 8 seed that they really do match up well against. The Jazz made 48.7% of their threes tonight, for example, and that’ll be difficult to replicate. At one point, the Jazz allowed the Grizzlies to score on 15 straight possessions — is that the mark of an NBA champion? You’d have to say no.

But I think there are still definite items of improvement that we know the Jazz are capable of. Mitchell’s presence is one of them — he played very well tonight, but only in 26 minutes. What if he plays 36; aren’t the Jazz better? What if Clarkson, to be frank, starts using his brain when making decisions? He’s actually shown himself to be capable of that this season, and he would be really helpful.

Their potential to win a second-round series looks pretty good right now, too; the Mavs have throttled the Clippers in the first two games on the road, and I think the Jazz actually match up relatively well against Dallas. Yes, stopping Luka Doncic would be a huge challenge, and one they’ll only be able to do semi-successfully, even if they do well. But Kristaps Porzingis has been a liability against the Jazz in the past, and Dallas’ defense hasn’t been strong enough to consistently get stops, either.

In short, I think overall, the first two games have been a little underwhelming from a performance perspective. But they do have the chance to bounce back with wins on the road in Game 3 and perhaps even Game 4. Winning both on the road would certainly send a statement to the league.

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