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The Triple Team: Jazz shut down Damian Lillard, get Rudy Gobert oodles of dunks in win vs. Portland

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27).

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 129-107 win against the Portland Trail Blazers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. How about the Jazz’s defense on Damian Lillard?

You guys know about Damian Lillard: 25 points per game average for his career, tremendous 3-point shooter, scorer, everything. He’s had a little bit of a slow start to the season, but still: definitely Damian Lillard.

The Jazz limited him to only 11 points on the night: 4-12 shooting, only two free throws, only five assists. They turned him into Monte Morris, Derrick White — that’s a huge win. In fact, he only even took four threes; last season, he took at least five in every single game.

But look at how the Jazz were playing him defensively: as they came off screens, they were aggressive using Gobert in preventing the shot, then had Ingles rolled over to stop Jusuf Nurkic in the paint:

Mitchell’s role is crucial here, because he’s essentially playing defense on two guys. But he’s in a position to make that pass tough: right in front of the ball. In the end, Nurkic just barrels into Ingles, and this season, that’s not a call he’s going to get.

So because pick and roll wasn’t working, they tried just isolating him sometimes, too. Because you have to play so far up on Lillard to prevent the three, he has a relatively easy time of driving into the paint. But this is beautiful: Gobert rolls over at the perfect time to prevent Lillard from doing anything at the basket, then as he goes under the hoop, Ingles rejoins the defensive effort back outside the paint. It’s seamless.

Okay, this play has nothing to do with Damian Lillard. It’s just that Gobert locks up C.J. McCollum, then so easily rotates onto Robert Covington. Gobert literally forces Covington to shoot it over the backboard. Put this in the Hall of Fame of Shot Contests That Don’t Count As Blocks.

The level got a little bit lower in the third quarter, but overall, some incredible Jazz defense was played against the league’s fourth-best offensive team.

2. Rudy Gobert got a season high in dunks thanks to sketchy Portland D

Rudy Gobert had eight dunks tonight. That’s more than any player in the NBA has had in any game this season — Christian Wood and Anthony Davis had seven in a game earlier this season. The high, since the stat has been kept starting in 1996-97, is 11 in a game. The man who did that won’t surprise you: Shaquille O’Neal.

So why did Gobert get eight dunks (among 11 total shots), compared to just a total seven shots against the Pelicans? Well, essentially, it’s because new Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups has a bad defensive team playing a semi-insane system, and the Jazz can just get dunks and threes.

I’m sorry, but what’s the idea here? The Blazers are asking two players to stay high in the pick and roll does, but how is this a high-percentage defensive move? This is a bad scheme. The Jazz could do this over and over, and Joe Ingles could barely contain his glee at how the Blazers were playing defense.

“I don’t know why you would blitz me, because I’m a pass-first guy anyway,” Ingles said. “Like, I couldn’t think of anything better than to pass the ball, especially to Rudy to keep him happy. ... To me, I think it’s the easiest coverage to play.”

The Blazers have to play 2.7 seconds of defense here. But again, they’re hyper aggressive, Gobert can get an easy dunk in only 2.1 seconds.

Okay, one more. It’s basically an off-ball pick and roll... but look at where Larry Nance, Portland’s four man down low, is. Is he preventing the lob? Is he preventing the three? He is doing neither.

Now, props to Gobert for finishing some of these lobs — it’s not always that easy, and he dunked home some high passes tonight. But also... Blazers? That’s a rough situation right now. Meanwhile, this is former head coach Terry Stotts:

3. Trent Forrest needs to be aggressive

The scouting report on Trent Forrest is pretty simple: hey, you don’t really need to worry about this guy scoring. He’s averaging 1.4 points per game. Over and over again, we see Forrest not even really looking to shoot, or score, instead preferring to find his more talented teammates.

I don’t hate that — his teammates are more talented, to be sure! — but there are times when it can short-circuit the rest of the team’s offense, because his man is so worried about everyone else.

He’s using only 9% of possessions overall, and has as many turnovers (7) as made baskets (7). And he’s ranked last in the NBA among point guards in usage, with a big gap between him and second place (either Tomas Satoransky or Delon Wright, at 11.7%).

But it’s pretty easy to tell when a team has Forrest-ignore goggles on, and there are some easy baskets to be had in taking advantage. This fourth-quarter basket is a great example: Lillard is caught leaning as Mitchell runs near Forrest — giving Forrest just an easy drive to the rim. Check and mate.

Given the factors, I understand Quin Snyder’s decision to play Forrest over Jared Butler. The Jazz don’t really need another scorer who dribbles the air out of the ball, even if Butler is more talented. Forrest is a better defender right now. And Butler is probably best served by playing 35 minutes a night in the G-League over five minutes a night in the NBA. But there can be a happy medium between the two, where Forrest is a tad bit more aggressive to lighten the load on the lineups he’s in.

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