The Triple Team: Jazz show versatility, star-powered excellence in win against shorthanded Clippers

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 124-103 win against the Los Angeles Clippers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. A variety of ways to go on game-defining runs

Writing about runs is one of the most boring ways of writing about basketball games. Runs happen in every game, so telling you about them is snoozeville. “The Jazz used a blahblah to blah run in the blah quarter to power themselves to a blahblahblah-blahblah win over the blahblah blahs.” You click away, and go read some other more interesting newspaper. Or, let’s be honest, just keep scrolling through the social media feed of your choice.

But the Jazz had a 13-2 run in the second quarter, a 9-0 run in the third, and a 13-0 run in the fourth — and the combination of all of those runs won them this game. And instead of just telling you that they happened, I think it’s revealing to see what actually caused those spurts. Because honestly, I think it’s a large part of what makes the Jazz great right now.

First run:

• Most of the run happens with Hassan Whiteside in the game against Isaiah Hartenstein. That’s a big, big advantage to the Jazz right now, even though both players are just on minimum contracts. But Whiteside is able to dominate inside, get rebounds, and set better screens — he’s one of the best backup centers in the league at a discount price.

• Jordan Clarkson does Jordan Clarkson things.

• Just really solid defense. Once the Jazz score, they can defend in the half-court, and in this stretch, they just stopped the Clippers on six out of seven possessions.

Second run:

• This run took place in just 94 seconds — the first run was defensive, this one was offensive.

• Seven of those points were from Donovan Mitchell just being a superstar. More on this later.

• Royce O’Neale forced a turnover with some simple backcourt defensive pressure, and the Clippers missed two free throws.

Third run:

• This was a classic transition-generated run. The Jazz got most of these points by getting out in transition against a tired team and taking advantage.

Here’s a good example: Clarkson looks to have slowed the play down against the Clippers enough for them to get back, but Morris still takes way too long to get back. Even by the time he does, he doesn’t have the energy to really seriously contest the Bogdanovic three.

• Once again, O’Neale forced turnovers in the backcourt.

• Mitchell/Gobert two-man plays worked to perfection.

These runs take advantage of the Jazz’s advantages over other teams: First, that they’re just more deep than their opposition (especially with the Clippers shorthanded and the Jazz mostly healthy). That means they can pick on sore spots, like Hartenstein, and exploit them for points. Then, the Jazz can rely on their stars, Mitchell and Gobert, to create special moments that overwhelm even good opposition play. Finally, they’re so effective in transition: the Jazz are among the best transition teams in the league, while the Clippers are the worst. Running and gunning works for them, and they do it a lot.

2. The value of Bojan Bogdanovic

The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor wrote about the Jazz’s position in the trade market this week, and in particular, the idea that the Jazz are reportedly looking for a defensive wing player. O’Connor suggested a trade of Bogdanovic for Detroit’s Jerami Grant, a long, mobile athlete who undoubtedly is a better defender than Bogdanovic.

And yet, I really think that Bogdanovic gives the Jazz a lot of their identity right now. That play above is a good example: him sprinting to the corner is just tough to defend, and frequently opens up space for other players.

But more than that, his quick, dangerous trigger makes the Jazz really difficult to defend. You can’t just be in the vicinity of Bogdanovic, you have to be tight.

There just aren’t that many players in the league who feel confident in taking that particular shot, but Bogdanovic does.

But Bogdanovic’s gravity opens so much up for other players, too. Look at Ivica Zubac hustle to stop Bogdanovic in transition — but that means someone else has to guard Gobert down low, and the result is an and-one. I don’t think Zubac is making that same perimeter-oriented defensive effort if Bogdanovic is replaced with Grant.

Frankly, I’d also argue that Bogdanovic’s playoff performances have been really, really good in a Jazz uniform. Last year, he shot 45% from three on his way to scoring 18 points per game, and actually played some stellar defense on Kawhi Leonard at the beginning of the Clippers series.

Now, Bogdanovic is 32, Grant is 27. If it’s close, it might just make sense to take the younger player. But given that the Jazz would have to add really, really significant assets to make a Grant deal work, and that such a deal would be a major blow to the Jazz’s No. 1 offense... well, it’s not a trade I’d definitely say yes to. Bogdanovic is really valuable, and I think we should recognize that.

3. Donovan Mitchell, changing speeds as he drives

Donovan Mitchell had another absurdly good game: 10-15 from the field for 27 points, along with six assists. His outside shot wasn’t working incredibly for him tonight, but the inside game was a perfect 8-8.

How did he do it? By putting the Clippers defenders on skates, playing with their expectations of what he was going to do. This is a perfect example: he comes off a screen from Gobert, looks left, slows, looks up, drawing Zubac closer, and then blows by him with one more dribble for the and-one.

It’s beautiful, so let’s look at another one.

Here, Mitchell has Terance Mann guarding him. Look at how many gears he shifts through during this possession: he walks, then hops towards the screen to make Mann think he’s going over it, then slowly gets him on his back, then bursts to the open baseline, then changes directions all of a sudden to the hoop. Because he jumped to the baseline, Mann’s momentum is all in that direction, and Mitchell uses it to draw a foul. He also, you know, scores.

Okay, okay, one more. Mitchell walks the ball up the court, gets the switch the Clippers will give pretty easily, then goes 100% at Morris, stops on a dime with a crossover between the legs, then attacks again to get past him.

It’s just so good. He’s very in control, and very much using the defender’s expectations and fears against them. Right now, Mitchell is playing at an unbelievable level.