When Joe Ingles made a layup at the 9:27 mark of the third quarter of Thursday night’s Game 2 against the Clippers, the Utah Jazz were up 76-55 and looking primed to run their opponents right out of Vivint Arena.
Then, however, in perhaps a last-ditch, kitchen-sink, try-literally-anything effort to slow the Jazz’s offense, L.A. coach Ty Lue had his team deploy a zone.
And it promptly took the Jazz out of the one they’d been in offensively.
Utah’s next seven possessions consisted of six missed shots and a shot-clock violation, as they went scoreless for 3:31. At the start of the fourth quarter, the Jazz went cold again, managing just two points in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the period. The Clippers wound up playing zone for 22 possessions, and the Jazz scored on just five of them (though they still eventually wound up with a 117-111 win).
Given that zone defenses are typically susceptible to outside shooting, which happens to be a Jazz forté, why did Utah struggle so much against it?
Well, for one thing, they were caught off-guard by it and rusty with it.
“I mean, we haven’t seen zone for a long time,” said Joe Ingles.
As a result, there was a lot of standing around, not enough driving-and-kicking, not enough ball movement — Utah wound up with only 15 assists on 42 made baskets in Game 2.
“When they played zone, I thought our spacing broke down. And any time you’re not spaced, it’s tough to move the ball,” said coach Quin Snyder. “We’ve been very good against zone over the course of the year, but I thought that affected us mentally.”
“We got stagnant, they slowed us up, and credit to Ty Lue and his staff for doing that,” added Donovan Mitchell.
Still, while fans bemoaned the shot selection, as Utah settled for casually launching 3s over and over, the Jazz acknowledged they were compounding their offensive problems by being lax on the other end, too.
“More than anything, we stopped getting stops, and then we’re not able to push the ball up the court and play instinctively,” said Snyder. “Give them credit — they were converting, we weren’t very efficient on offense, and usually that hurts your defense. And it did.”
JAZZ-CLIPPERS SERIES SCHEDULE
Game 1 • Jazz 112, Clippers 109
Game 2 • Jazz 117, Clippers 111
Game 3 • Saturday, 6:30 p.m. MT, at Los Angeles, ABC
Game 4 • June 14, 8 p.m. MT, at Los Angeles, TNT
Game 5* • June 16, time TBD, at Utah, TNT
Game 6* • June 18, time TBD, at Los Angeles, ESPN
Game 7* • June 20, time TBD, at Utah, TV TBD
* — if necessary
Ingles, meanwhile, noted that the Jazz are a team that tends to get better at facets of the game the more they see them, and Thursday’s zone was no exception. Initially, they were content to defer to the previously hot-shooting Mitchell to bail them out. Soon enough, they started invading the zone with drives and passes.
And finally, they started bypassing the zone altogether by forcing Clippers misses, pushing the ball in transition, and firing up open looks before Los Angeles had a chance to get locked in.
“The biggest thing about us, we just kept playing, kept doing what we’re doing — running, spacing, and then we started getting stops,” said Jordan Clarkson. “That was a big thing for us in the second half, and late in the game as well.”
Ingles theorized that with the success that Los Angeles had in that stretch, “there’s probably a good chance they’ll do it again.” Mitchell was similarly certain the Jazz will see it again on Saturday: “They’re going to probably do the same thing in Game 3.”
And so, Snyder emphasized the need for his players to keep moving the ball, as it’s “crucial for us,” not only in beating the zone, but against the Clippers’ length in general.
Mitchell, meanwhile, predicted that if and when Utah’s players do have a zone thrown at them again, they’ll be better-equipped to handle it simply by virtue of remembering their good habits of ball movement and solid defense.
“We got to continue to do what got us up 21. That’s really a big thing for us — continue to move the ball, continue to do what we do, but getting stops is huge,” he said. “There are times teams are going to hit shots, but the looks they were getting and the way they were getting their buckets, I feel like we can kind of control that a little bit better than we did in the third quarter, especially.”