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The Triple Team: Is Donovan Mitchell clutch? Answering that and more after loss vs. Bucks

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) looks to teammates with his own call as the Utah Jazz host the Milwaukee Bucks at Vivint Arena, Mar. 14, 2022.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 117-111 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. How good is Donovan Mitchell in the clutch?

The big talking point of tonight’s game was Donovan Mitchell’s performance down the stretch. Mitchell finished shooting just 1-8 in the fourth quarter (0-5 in the last five minutes), with one assist, one turnover, and a couple of untimely fouls.

I was curious: how good is Mitchell in the clutch in general? We’re going to use two different definitions of clutch: first, we’re going to look at the last five minutes of a game within five points in either direction.

Looking at the other clutch players, I think that’s about average... maybe about slightly below average, but not enough to say Mitchell is an unclutch human. At first, I thought that 3-point percentage was unfortunately low, but looking at some other players, they have similarly low percentages from 3: Kevin Durant is shooting 23.8% from deep in this same situation, while Steph Curry is all the way down at 18%.

I will say that his free-throw percentage has been lower in the last couple of years, especially this year, compared to what he’s capable of. That wasn’t the problem tonight.

Okay, let’s zoom in to those shots that really matter. How is Donovan Mitchell in one-possession games, with one minute left to go?

Again, I don’t think this is too embarrassing. Looking at this clutch page, Chris Paul is amazing, as is Nikola Jokic. But Mitchell’s around the same efficiency, again, as Steph Curry and Kevin Durant.

Yes, he shot 1-8 FG tonight in the fourth, but I thought only one of those looks was truly bad — he got fouled on another, but it wasn’t called. He missed a corner three, an open three at the angle of the arc, and a relatively open one at the top of the arc. He missed a midrange pull-up too. Again, if Mitchell makes those at his usual 35-40% in clutch situations, the Jazz are probably in a better position.

His turnover was one of the biggest plays of the game:

I think he needs to be more aware of Jrue Holiday on the play, who frequently does stuff just like this in clutch situations. On the other hand... what in the world is the spacing on this? I like the idea of a double-screen to Mitchell in transition, but I don’t think it can be to the direction of all of defenders on the court.

The worst play late was the foul after this miss — I thought the in-arena replay showed he was fouled on the shot, but Mitchell turns a 1-possession game into a 2-possession one by very obviously tugging Middleton’s jersey as he gets back on offense. Can’t do that.

Obviously, the Jazz need Donovan to be better than this late to win games. But his usual performance would have been good enough here, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a catastrophe that it wasn’t tonight.

2. Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside

Goodness, I thought they made some special plays with their length today.

We’ll start with Gobert’s clutch pick-and-roll defense with 90 seconds to go... it is impossible to play 2-on-1 pick-and-roll defense better than this.

It’s obviously not exactly the same, and probably only reminded me of this because of the opponent, but it did bring to mind Giannis Antetokounmpo’s absurd play in the NBA Finals last year. Just a play that’s only possible with athleticism and length that, like, three dudes in the world have.

Gobert will get the plaudits because he scored 18 points and finished the game, but I thought Hassan Whiteside was excellent as well. He had four blocks in 16 minutes today, and all four blocks were of Antetokounmpo. That, my friends, is impressive.

Whiteside’s back to being excellent again. I truly don’t know what determines whether or not Whiteside is playing super well or like he never wants to see a basketball again, but it is honestly completely binary. Right now, the Jazz are getting good Whiteside, and it is very useful.

The Bucks only took 21% of their shots at the rim tonight, which is 8th percentile. Pretty darn impressive for the Jazz’s rim protectors.

3. Jazz aren’t going to be the third seed

Well, that dream died relatively quickly.

I was really hoping that the Jazz could move their way into the third seed somehow after the All-Star break, avoiding the Phoenix juggernaut until the Western Conference Finals. But, at this point, it looks extremely unlikely to happen: they’re 4.5 games out of that slot, with a tough road trip and tough opposition still left to play.

NBA standings from ESPN.com.

Before the game, the Jazz only had a 4% chance of getting that 3 seed, per Inpredictable... you’d imagine that the loss has hurt those chances even more.

They are currently tied with Dallas for the fourth and fifth seed. But the Jazz currently hold a 2-1 tiebreaker in that season series, with the final match to be held on March 27. If they then lose that one, the next tiebreaker is to be the division winner — they’re currently 1.5 games ahead of the Denver Nuggets, so they’d still hold that.

There is a world in which the Jazz might be best served by moving down to six, facing the Grizzlies in the first round on the road, and moving forward from there. But gosh, that’s risky too, given how good the Grizzlies have been this season. If you lose that series, it’s a real bad look.

To be honest, it’s not actually looking great for the Jazz’s chances this year, just based on how they’re playing, anyway. But I continue to maintain that saving face matters: for keeping Donovan and Rudy happy, for trade value of your own players, for drawing free agents to Utah, and so on.

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