The Triple Team: Jazz break down the NBA’s 5th best defense for 137 points in win

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (11) celebrate the win as the Utah Jazz host the Boston Celtics, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 137-130 win over the Boston Celtics from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz break down league’s 5th best defense

Before the game, I was really curious to see how the Jazz’s offense would perform in this one. After all, the Celtics switch pick and roll more than any other team. And they have Marcus Smart to guard Donovan Mitchell, and Mitchell sometimes can struggle against the league’s best perimeter defenders.

And instead, they absolutely walloped them. You see the 137 points above, but they also had an 132 offensive rating in the half court tonight — in other words, they were just easily beating down the Celtics’ set defense.

How? A quick breakdown:

First, you can do it the old-fashioned way: small guy quicker than big guy, so drive by him and create chaos that way.

But this is even easier: when they switched, the Jazz were great at shooting at the point of the switch — the exact time where it’s going to be impossible for them to get a contest.

Here’s another cool way to take advantage of the switch. It’s tough for the Jazz to lob it over the top from beyond the 3-point line, but what if they make it an easier pass? Rudy Gay comes up to the free-throw line to receive the ball, the Celtics scramble down low to prevent the pass to Rudy Gobert, and then Jordan Clarkson’s wide open for three in the corner. Splash.

Eventually, the Celtics went with a more conservative drop-big scheme, but the Jazz were elite at beating that in all the usual ways: shoot the pull-up three that they’re giving you, or attack the temporary two-on-one in the paint to get layups and lobs at the rim.

This bodes well for the Jazz. They actually have a bunch of good defensive teams coming up in this stretch of games — including teams that are way outperforming expectations, like Cleveland and Minnesota. If they can still keep the No. 1 offense despite those good defenses, consider it a test passed.

2. Improving the clutch offense

Over the last couple of days in practice, Mike Conley said that the Jazz have been working on their clutch offense, something that sometimes broke down in the bad losses to Memphis and New Orleans last week.

“We’ve had a lot of talks over the last week or so just about, you know, our crunch time plays and what we want to get out of them. We’ve kind of shortened that list, and made it simple,” Conley said. “We want to have the ball in certain people’s hands at certain times, and tonight we did a really good job of just being able to know when and where to allow those certain people to do that.”

I suspect those certain people have been identified as Conley and Mitchell. Sorry, Bogdanovic.

One play in particular sealed the win tonight. Donovan Mitchell attacks Tatum on the switch, and goes into one of his signature moves: the spin back. But Josh Richardson sniffs it out, forcing Mitchell to reconsider.

Last week, I think Mitchell throws up that shot. He’s on a roll at this point, and we all know how much Mitchell likes to make clutch baskets. But he kicks it out back to O’Neale, who finds Conley for the wide-open three.

“We knew exactly where our spots are, we knew what the mismatches were, we knew what we were doing,” Mitchell said. “I have to give coach credit for that: we covered every d--- situation in practice and shootaround. So when you come into the game, it’s like, we’ve seen it eight times already, so now it’s just reading it and executing it.”

Obviously, this was a unique game, having three days of off-time before coming into it. They won’t have always covered every situation eight times. But if they know where they are, and know what they want to do with more certainty, I think we’ll see improved offense late in games.

3. Hassan Whiteside’s fouls

Okay, after a brilliant start to the season, we have to acknowledge that the last two weeks of the Hassan Whiteside Experience have not been as good.

The biggest problem is that he’s fouling too much. He had 11 combined fouls in the 28 combined minutes he played in the Pelicans games, and had three tonight in 13 minutes. Indeed, he has the highest foul rate in the league among anyone playing rotational minutes, and by a long distance, too.

Player Per 36 Minutes Table
Rk Player Pos Tm MP PF
1Hassan WhitesideCUTA3237.1
2Paul MillsapPFBRK1796.8
3Nick RichardsCCHO1636.2
4Alperen ŞengünCHOU3606.0
5Cody ZellerCPOR2866.0
6Naz ReidCMIN3195.9
7JaMychal GreenPFDEN2965.7
8JaVale McGeeCPHO3515.7
9Moritz WagnerCORL2355.5
10Jaden McDanielsPFMIN5065.4
11Isaiah HartensteinCLAC3315.3
12Dewayne DedmonCMIA3245.0
13Gorgui DiengCATL1595.0
14Derrick Jones Jr.SFCHI3184.9
15Thanasis AntetokounmpoSFMIL2414.8
16Jarred VanderbiltPFMIN4694.8
17Jaxson HayesCNOP2324.7
18Dwight HowardCLAL2934.7
19DeAndre JordanCLAL2764.6
20Kevon LooneyCGSW3854.6
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/3/2021.

This is not the usual Whiteside, who has averaged 3.7 fouls per 36 minutes in his career. And generally, “not the usual Whiteside” is a good thing, but this goes a little too far.

The most common foul I see him make is the A to B jumping foul. That’s where a defending player is jumping from point A to point B while trying to protect the rim, and in doing so, creating contact. That’s against the rules, and will always be called against the defensive player.

This is a good example: his body is staying vertical here, but he’s jumping from the inside of the charge circle to its outer edge, bumping into Tatum in doing so.

He’s so long that I think he can contest this shot without having to move towards Tatum. But giving up free-throws is nearly always the exact wrong thing to do.

Still, I suppose it’s a sin of commission, not omission, which is a step in the right direction. But over the last two weeks, the Jazz have been outscored in Whiteside’s minutes, and the fouls are definitely part of the problem here.