The Triple Team: In a foul-laden and strange Christmas game, the Jazz come out on top over Mavericks

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Guard Joe Ingles, left, argues a call with referee John Butler as the Utah Jazz play the Dallas Mavericks at Vivint Arena Saturday, Dec. 25, 2021.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 120-116 win over the Dallas Mavericks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. That was as raggedy as games get

72 free-throw attempts.

The NBA had done really well this season in making games watchable — the highest total in a game in free throws before tonight was 68. But tonight’s ref crew was absolutely bonkers; making wild calls all game long.

I’d blame some holiday eggnog if they’d called too few fouls, but this was the opposite. Maybe it was too many candy canes gave them a sugar rush? Did they get new whistles for Christmas?

Regardless, it had a massive effect on the game — a ton of possessions, a lot of stilted play, a lot of booing. Heck, the crowd even came up with a new clap thing to do while players were at the free-throw line!

Now, while the refs deserve a lot of criticism, so do the Jazz. They played their part in sending the Mavs to the line frequently. Like, this transition foul by Donovan Mitchell: if he’s going to intentionally foul like this, it can’t be at the basket against a good free-throw shooter. He either has to foul earlier or defend the chance straight up.

At the end of the half, Rudy Gay just can’t foul on this kind of shot.

There were some other weird ones, like Royce O’Neale tapping Kristaps Porzingis on the arm as he went up, or Joe Ingles getting a technical after a terrible out of bounds call. But one of the things the Jazz do best is not fouling: they’re third in the league in free throws per opponent field goal attempt.

That was tonight’s sign of lacking focus against a shorthanded team. Once again, they walked away with the game late in the fourth quarter, but you wish that it could have been decided before that. Yes, the referees should have been better — man, I could clip a zillion different videos of them screwing up calls tonight — but the Jazz can’t help dig a hole for themselves against a team this shorthanded.

2. Joe Ingles, struggling defensively

Joe Ingles is 34 years old.

Honestly, this is the point in people’s careers where they start to slow down. Ingles, already being slow, needs to fight against the increasing slowness more than anyone.

Take a play like this. Joe could have defended with more effort or quickness three times: going over the screen, or hustling back to his new man after the switch, or getting in the passing lane down low for the steal. He does none of the three, and the result is a dunk.

Joe, Rudy Gobert has to get back out to defend Kristaps Porzingis on the pick-and-pop. Therefore, it is pretty imperative that you get between your guy and the basket when given the opportunity to do so.

Again, one where it feels like he’s just a bystander. I suppose his defensive spin allows him to cut off his man? But it’s not like he’s fighting for the rebound, and then Brown’s able to run by him for a dunk after the Mavs do get the ball back.

It’s not that I’m blaming Joe for that play. But I felt he could have made an impact on its outcome and just didn’t.

I think Ingles still has value as a 3-point shooter first, a pick-and-roll guy, and as a pest. But it might be getting to the point where you can’t call Ingles a 3-and-D player anymore, because the defensive efforts just aren’t there — his limited athleticism is hurting him on that end of the floor.

3. The consistency of Conley, Bogdanovic, and Gobert

It’s just so, so nice to have three guys who you can count on to bring it at a high level nearly every game.

To prove it, I’ve been looking at the 10-game moving average Game Score charts, from the NBA stats website Cleaning The Glass. Game Score is a metric that attempts to quantify into one number just how good a player’s game was on a given night, using only box score stats. For example, here’s Donovan Mitchell’s:

Donovan Mitchell's 10-game moving average of Game Score. (Cleaning The Glass)

As those who have watched the Jazz know, Mitchell started the season out with a few bad games, then a couple good ones, then a bunch of iffy ones in a row — and then has been really quite phenomenal since December rolled around. He only played one game below the positional average, so that’s great, but there have been streaks where Mitchell’s at his best vs. when he’s not.

But look at the up and down movement compared to the three guys mentioned in the subheadline: Mitchell’s graph is spikier. Here’s Mike Conley’s:

Mike Conley's 10-game moving average of Game Score. (Cleaning The Glass)

His line really hugs the center — with the exception of a couple of stinkers and one outstanding performance, Conley’s been Steady Eddie.

Or here’s Bojan Bogdanovic’s:

Bojan Bogdanovic's 10-game moving average of Game Score. (Cleaning The Glass)

Bogdanovic has been more up and down on a game-by-game basis, which you might expect given how many of his shots come from deep. But there haven’t been swaths of the season where he’s played well vs. poorly; he’s really brought a consistent style of performance overall. As a result, his line, too, hugs the center.

Finally, here’s Rudy Gobert’s:

Rudy Gobert's 10-game moving average of Game Score. (Cleaning The Glass)

Two games where he’s below the positional average, but the rest he’s either good or great. Again, the result is a pretty solid line, where the Jazz can usually count on Gobert to give them good performances.

As much as we criticize the Jazz for being inconsistent this season, including losing a bunch of games at home they shouldn’t have, game score does identify three players as playing particularly consistently. And by the eye test, I agree with that — certainly, at least, on the offensive end, which the box score can show more of what’s going on.

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