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The Triple Team: Jazz defense has awful night, ball sticks on offense as Clippers win Game 3

Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George, left, shoots as Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale defends during the second half of Game 3 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Saturday, June 12, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles • Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 132-106 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. That was some pretty awful defense

The Clippers scored 132 points in 93 possessions on Saturday night. That’s a 141 offensive rating.

The Jazz can’t, under any circumstances, allow a team to score that many points on so few possessions. Typically, half-court defense is a hallmark of the Jazz, and it just got toasted and roasted in the Jazz’s Game 3 loss.

In Game 2, the Jazz’s defense was great with Rudy Gobert on the court (a 97 defensive rating) and poor when Derrick Favors was on the court (a 169 defensive rating). But tonight, it was bad no matter who was on the floor: a 128 defensive rating with Gobert, and 138 with Favors.

And it wasn’t the Jazz’s transition defense, which was usually the Jazz’s problem when the defense failed in the regular season. The Clippers nearly exclusively played in the half-court, and still sliced up the Jazz. Let me show you some examples.

Miscommunication

Here, the Jazz are trying to defend against the threat of Kawhi Leonard in the post, so Rudy Gobert comes over and doubles. But then the Jazz don’t really know who is supposed to be closing out to Marcus Morris in the corner: Is it going to be Gobert, or Bogdanovic? The result is an easy Paul George dunk.

Or here: George just comes off a screen, and Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale don’t agree who should be guarding it. It’s an open three for one of the best players in the league. Splash.

Mismatches

I worry about Favors defending against 5-out looks. Like here, the Clippers run simple pick-and-pop action with Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum. Favors has to close out Batum’s shot, but then can’t really defend on Batum’s drive. Gobert is able to close out and make an impact on the drive, but Favors doesn’t have that length.

Mistakes

This is just not smart from Jordan Clarkson: He can’t leave Nicolas Batum’s body to go under this Ivica Zubac screen, not while Luke Kennard can just pass it to Batum so easily.

Misaligned priorities

Okay, I struggled with the header there. But look, wouldn’t it have been nice if Gobert was involved on this play rather than complaining to the ref? Maybe he would have been able to influence the shot if he were in position!

The Jazz are a good defensive team, and the Clippers did just make a whole lot of shots tonight. But the Jazz made it pretty easy on them at times, showing very little of the grit that made a huge difference in Games 1-2. In doing so, they lost a chance to put a foot on the Clippers’ throat.

2. Can Jazz get more assists against the Clippers defense?

The Jazz had only 15 assists in Game 3.

They also had only 15 assists in Game 2, so this isn’t necessarily catastrophic. But they averaged about 24 per game in the regular season, and so it shows what the Clippers’ defense is doing to the Jazz: making them a little stagnant, a little easy to guard.

Gobert said it well: The Clippers’ entire defensive gameplan is built around taking away the Jazz’s first offensive action. They do that by either switching screens or double-teaming them.

So here’s an example: Donovan Mitchell has the ball, and Joe Ingles comes up to set a screen on him — an interesting call in the first place, given that Paul George is his man. But Mitchell drives on George and gets surrounded by Leonard, George and even Marcus Morris.

What needs to happen here? Some recognition of the situation. Given where Gobert is, it’s going to be tough for Mitchell to attack that side of the floor anyway: Morris can help. So Mitchell needs to take that initial drive step in, then find the open man.

Of course, the other part of assists is taking and making shots after a pass, and I thought the Jazz sometimes tried to get too cute tonight. Here’s Ingles getting a pass after a nice read from Clarkson, and Ingles doesn’t shoot, he just drives and throws up a tough floater.

I don’t get it sometimes: Ingles was hot after the first quarter tonight, had 11 points thanks to outside shooting. And then he passes up that look, misses the floater, then complains to the ref and doesn’t get back on defense.

Heck, even if he’s not going to shoot that, he has either Georges Niang open early for a swing pass or Miye Oni open late for the corner three.

I just want to see more ball movement; faster, quicker, decisions. With how aggressive the Clippers are being in helping sometimes, there are people open, but the Jazz have to find them.

3. The bench was very poor

Derrick Favors has four total points in this series. Georges Niang has three. Miye Oni has zero.

Those are three rotation players who are giving the Jazz absolutely nothing offensively. And quite frankly, the defense from all three has been poor as well — I pointed out Favors’ numbers up there, but Oni is still fouling too much and Niang has been a turnstile at times.

Niang also led the team in turnovers, with three. He only played 10 minutes.

Oh, and then Jordan Clarkson had a very rough game, shooting only 5 of 16 from the field.

Mike Conley’s eventual return would help a lot, by just quite frankly taking minutes from some of these players. But even when he does return, Niang is probably still going to get a few minutes, and he needs to make better decisions.

Favors is definitely going to get minutes either way, but I think there’s a case that Quin Snyder is playing him too much. Even had Gobert finished tonight’s game, he would have played only 34 minutes. Gobert wasn’t playing amazingly, but in my mind, the Jazz’s best chance was definitely with him out there — Favors’ rim protection hasn’t been stellar, and Gobert can change games in a hurry.

I’d consider Ersan Ilyasova, too: not a great individual defender, but gives you a little bit more 3-point shooting to open up space for Mitchell.

Regardless: We know that Favors, Niang and Clarkson can play better than they currently are. The Jazz need more from those guys; it can’t be just their starting lineup carrying them all the time.

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