Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 120-113 win over the Memphis Grizzlies from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Donovan Mitchell, poised, yet athletic
I think we saw some of the best play we’ve seen from Donovan Mitchell in tonight’s game, even though he “only” scored 30 points and “only shot 2-7 from 3-point range. We’ve seen more than that from him, to be sure.
But man, was he ever in control of his offensive possessions tonight. Mitchell is obviously a very dynamic driver, but I was so impressed with his ability to drive while staying in control, in ways he didn’t really used to.
This play early is a good example: he crosses up Dillon Brooks, but still has work to do. I think Mitchell, earlier in his career, would finish the crossover then jump, trying to finish over the top of Jonas Valanciunas. But not here! He takes an extra dribble, then sends Valanciunas the wrong way with the Eurostep for the very easy layup. It’s just crafty.
Here, the crowd is rocking, and Memphis is coming back. But Mitchell feels Melton put his arm on him, Mitchell gathers, draws his arm up through the contact, and gets two easy free-throws — like James Harden does.
Mitchell had 13 free-throw attempts tonight, so even though he didn’t shoot that well from the outside, he still was an efficient scorer.
That patience also came out in his eight assists tonight. Here, classic pick and roll with Derrick Favors, but Mitchell takes his time in the paint, navigates to the left to pull Valanciunas over to give Favors space, and then gives him the dish for the easy finish.
But because he’s still a very elite athlete, he can make plays like this.
I mean, holy cow. That’s just a ridiculous rebound, over the trees and just snatching it. Seconds later, he hit a three.
This is the kind of stuff you see top-5 players do, honestly. They remain patient throughout the game, get to their spots, score efficiently, get easy points at the line, and then save their athleticism for plays where they think they can make the biggest difference. Just a great performance from Mitchell tonight.
2. Royce O’Neale’s rebounding and shooting
Last Triple Team focused on how the Grizzlies were able to have a chance through second-chance points. Tonight, the Jazz really shut down that attack, allowing the Grizzlies to only have seven offensive rebounds tonight despite 49 missed Grizzlies shots — the Jazz will take that every time.
Royce O’Neale had eight of those rebounds, and a couple were terrific ones. Here, the Jazz push up higher in help defense, leaving O’Neale to absolutely battles with Valanciunas, who is so much bigger than he is. But the smaller guy is able to get a fingertip on it and tip it to himself to get the board. Huge.
I also loved what he did in his three 3-point makes tonight. This was the most confident, important one.
Shooting and making that shot is so important in keeping the Grizzlies’ defense honest. In this case, it punishes the Grizzlies for holding back and protecting the paint against Mitchell. The next time Mitchell has the ball, he can penetrate and make something happen. O’Neale is a good shooter, and should take these shots confidently.
I think O’Neale is somewhat overrated defensively — he consistently has tough matchups, but he sometimes struggles to keep guys in front when it matters most, and can be prone to dying on picks. But he’s been huge on the glass this season, rebounding despite his 6-4 height like few other guys — Russell Westbrook, Dejounte Murray — can. Maybe O’Neale is making a new archetype of player: instead of a 3-and-D player, maybe he’s a 3-and-R(ebounding) player.
Eh, 3-and-R is a bad name. Glass-and-splash. That’s what we’re going to call it.
3. Jazz higher in pick and roll defense
The Jazz referenced it as a key to their defensive success in Game 3, so I thought we’d see it a lot more, and indeed we did: the Jazz’s big men playing higher at the point of attack on pick and roll. That prevented Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks from getting some (but certainly not all) of the easy looks they’re used to.
Here’s an example of it working really well: Derrick Favors jumps out extremely high on the screen to delay Morant’s drive, while Jordan Clarkson jumps in Valanciunas’ path as he rolls to the rim. Morant forces a tough jumper, O’Neale gets back in the play to battle for the rebound, and Jazz get a stop. Great defense.
That’s part of why Morant had a relatively slow night scoring: only 23 points on 8-21 shooting; the Jazz will take that every time.
So what are the downsides? Well, Morant had 12 assists, but they didn’t come directly out of the pick and roll play — there were a lot of transition assists in there, if you watch through them. I think if Morant is able to find that open man, it could open up open threes for Memphis. It also could result in possessions where Morant notices that big man defending him sooner, just backs it out, and attacks in isolation. There were a few of those tonight, but there could be more.
Still, I think this is a good defensive strategy for this series, and probably will be required at some point in these playoffs in the future, too. The Jazz have been attacked for their lack of defensive versatility, but they adapted tonight to reasonably good effect.