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The Triple Team: Donovan Mitchell at his smooth best; Jazz set new NBA record for threes in win vs. Minnesota

Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) shoots the ball over Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday Dec. 8, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 136-104 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. One of the best games you’ll see from Donovan Mitchell

Just a standout, superstar-level game from Donovan Mitchell tonight: 36 points on 14-23 shooting. Just two assists, but I didn’t feel like he was forcing the issue. He attacked very wisely.

He shot 5-12 from deep, for 42%, but the big difference tonight was the 2-point shooting: 9-11 from inside the arc. He usually shoots just 53% from 2-point range, so to be that efficient inside was special. The highlight reel is well worth watching.

I think the difference was that Mitchell was able to get all the way to the rim tonight. How? Well, he attacked cleverly, getting baskets at points when the Timberwolves didn’t have rim protection near the hoop.

In particular, there were a lot of times when he rejected screens or handoffs from Rudy Gobert or Rudy Gay, just fooling the defender and using his quick first step to get inside the paint. Take the play at the 1:05 mark of the video above: it’s an end of quarter play, Gay is coming up to set a screen for him — and Mitchell just says, “nope”, attacks down the left. Once he’s in the paint, he’s got two options: the Euro-step layup he makes, or the kick-out to Royce O’Neale in the corner.

The play at 1:51 was the highlight for me. Look how absolutely convincing Mitchell in his body positioning that he’s going to the center of the paint: he’s dribbling that way, ball out, looking that way, everything.

Donovan Mitchell definitely looks like he's going into the middle of the paint here, right? Not so fast.

And then somehow he just cooly steps left for the easy layup. Wildly, wildly effective.

Mitchell, at the level of play he’s shown over the last five games, elevates the Jazz to a remarkable degree. He’s using change-of-pace to be effective, finding teammates when he gets in tough spots, and attacking in transition moments. It may have come six weeks later than expected — and he still has to show it over the course of months, not weeks — but this could possibly be the leap that Jazz fans hoped for when the season started.

2. Demotivating threes

Terrific stat from the broadcast tonight on AT&T SportsNet: the Jazz have now made 20 threes in three consecutive games for the first time in NBA history.

They’ve done it against three top-10 defenses: Boston at No. 10, Cleveland at No. 4, and Minnesota at No. 9. And those teams play very different styles of defense: Boston switches a ton, Minnesota’s very aggressive in helping in the paint, and Cleveland has a surplus of super tall, long dudes to make life tough. They definitely all protect the paint well, but that’s why you shoot over the top, right?

And that’s especially true when the Jazz are getting threes through transition offense and early in possessions from pick-and-roll pull-ups. Other teams feel like there’s nothing to be done against the Jazz. I mean, if you do play aggressively in pick-and-roll, they’ve shown they can beat that, too.

I also want to show you what this does to opposing teams and their fanbases. The great @monilogue — one of the Jazz Twitter OGs — compiles what opposing fans are saying in their message boards and chat threads at her blog. We can’t print all of what they said about the Jazz’s 3-point shooting due to language, and, um, extreme imagery, but here’s some examples of the printable ones:

You get a three and you get a three and you get a three.

Getting baited into the 3pt contest game, won’t end well.

the jazz take an outrageous amount of threes

Let’s abolish the 3point line

The Jazz are the shooters that all our guys think they are.

I’ve literally never seen a team shoot this well from 3

How on earth do you defend this team?

The Jazz never miss

Utah Jazz miss a 3 challenge

Bogdanovic is cash

The way the Jazz keep getting open 3s honestly is impressive. No wonder they have the best offense in the NBA.

Can they please go on a cold streak or something

How Utah can spam 3s so effectively is so frustrating

Mike Conley making those types of Curry 3′s isn’t a good sign.

They way the Utes are dropping 3′s is indecent.

there you go.. most 3s allowed in team history…ugh

What can you do when they make everything and we miss everything?

Not really. This is what the jazz do. Best offense in the league

I don’t think its fair that the Jazz are this talented at shooting.

STOP LEAVING BOGDANOVIC OPEN

Jazz missed from 3. A glitch in the matrix

I want the Jazz to understand it is entirely unreasonable to still be shooting 57% from 3 at this stage of the game.

Nah the whole Utah team gotta be drug tested after this one

This Jazz roster is unbelievably stacked. How do they afford all of these guys?

If the jazz keep shooting like this in the 4th quarter I won’t believe in any type percentage and probability anymore

At this point every 2 point shot they take is a dub in my book

That ball got a homing device to the basket? How they sinking them so easy

Joe Ingles needs to face consequences for this

Man these 3s I can’t handle the 3s

These threes are absurd

I vote to get rid of the 3pt line

The thing is... I don’t think it’s unsustainable. Right now, the Jazz are shooting 37.4% from deep over the season. Last year, they shot 38.9%. You’d probably expect a downturn this year due to the new foul rules, and losing Georges Niang, but I don’t think this is crazy. Maybe not 20 threes every night, but 17 on average? I don’t see why not.

3. Other team’s benches are worse

I’ll be honest, I forget this sometimes.

But take tonight: without Hassan Whiteside, the Jazz had to play their small-ball lineup for large stretches of the game. And it actually defended very well, despite not doing so in the traditional way.

It wasn’t that the Jazz were doing an amazing job of staying defensively, but when they were beat, they swarmed well. And the Timberwolves’ lack of shooting and dearth of playmakers meant that they frequently couldn’t take advantage when the Jazz did collapse in the paint.

Take this play: Leandro Bolmaro is driving against Bogdanovic after the switch on the perimeter, but it’s working pretty well. He’s almost certainly going to get to the rim unless Royce O’Neale does something about it. So O’Neale sinks down, leaving Malik Beasley — a decent 3-point shooter, but only 33% this season — open. But Bolmaro’s just a rookie, he’s a little bit out of control, and O’Neale can break up the pass easily, leading to a Utah score. I think a more capable playmaker makes that pass more effectively.

Naz Reid here is looking to surprise Rudy Gay here, by not handing the ball off and instead doing the dribble behind the back move. Good work by Gay in front! But even if he pulls it off, the spacing is terrible — Jordan Clarkson’s right there to get in the way, as is his own teammate, Jaden McDaniels.

Opposing teams in the playoffs are rarely going to make mistakes like that. The Jazz aren’t matching up against the small-ball Clippers, they’re matching up against opponents who just aren’t comfortable in the NBA yet.

But most NBA teams that they face will have those guys, one or two players in their rotation that are extremely exploitable. And that could give the Jazz’s small-ball lineups a starting point from which to work with, as they continue to develop continuity.

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