The Triple Team: Jalen Brunson, Maxi Kleber torched the Utah Jazz’s perimeter defense. Can Donovan Mitchell improve on that end of the floor?

The Dallas Mavericks evened the series, 1-1, as Luka Doncic watched from the sidelines

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) drives to the basket past Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson, right, in the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Monday, April 18, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 110-104 Game 2 loss to the Dallas Mavericks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz get spaced out in 4th quarter, can’t defend on the perimeter

It was the same formula as the Clippers series: space the Jazz out, and attack their worst defensive player on the floor.

Turns out no matter if that’s Jordan Clarkson or, much more worryingly, Mike Conley or Donovan Mitchell, even decently good scoring guards can get by that guy without a screen. And then Rudy Gobert has to come help, because giving up layups is bad. And that means Gobert’s guy is going to get a wide-open three, because this Jazz team seemingly can’t or doesn’t want to rotate.

Here’s a compilation of their 4th quarter perimeter defensive issues:

Look, in some of these situations, mistakes are made. Danuel House and Rudy Gobert don’t communicate on a switch, for example, and Maxi Kleber gets an open three that way. Mistakes will be made.

What I’m not particularly OK with is Utah’s inability to contain Jalen Brunson, the league’s 52nd-leading scorer, off the dribble without a screen. Brunson’s a nice player — but he’s not a star, or a superstar. He’s a nice point guard to have, and you can’t be losing to “nice to have” guys in the playoffs and consider yourself a real contender.

With some of these guys, I get it. Clarkson is a skinny dude who’s not known as a defensive player. Conley looks old at times, frankly, and can get beat with speed and quick-twitch muscles.

Donovan Mitchell, though, I’m a little bit more disappointed in. He’s not tall, but he does have a tremendous wingspan, a 6-foot-9 one. He’s a brilliant athlete. When he was drafted, the most common comparison was Avery Bradley — a fearsome defender. Frankly, there’s no excuse this time like there was last year with his inability to keep guys in front; he’s healthy.

That he can’t get his defensive level to a higher place when it matters most is a highly discouraging thing to confirm. He’s always going to be on the court at the end of a game in this era of Jazz basketball. So if the opponent can always attack him, it limits the ceiling of not only this year’s team, but the ceiling of the team for years to come unless he improves on that end of the floor.

As Gobert and Snyder pointed out, at least this is Game 2 this time, as opposed to an elimination game vs. L.A. last season. There’s plenty of time to figure this out. But given that they’ve had a whole season to work on it, and given that Luka Doncic may come back at some point, it’s hard to be optimistic that they actually will.

2. Defensive problems besides the 5-out stuff

So all of the above was game-determining, to be sure. But it would have been nice if the Jazz would have played better defense against the Mavericks’ more traditional offense in the first three quarters, and once again, they didn’t do that either.

Brunson got going early thanks to some lax defense on the perimeter from Donovan Mitchell and Royce O’Neale. Mitchell can’t both die and go under this screen.

And O’Neale has to learn the lesson demonstrated by his teammate 30 seconds earlier. I suppose the same thing happening twice indicates that it could have been part of the gameplan, but I don’t think that’s a great idea given how well Brunson can shoot from three.

I get frustrated by defensive possessions like this, where a sheer lack of focus results in a good 3-point look to a good shooter. It’s the playoffs, right after halftime — it’s time to pay attention to your man!

These aren’t really spacing defense issues. These plays don’t involve Gobert. It’s just about the Jazz’s defenders being able to stay with their man on a consistent basis, and that’s not what we saw tonight.

Frankly, the Jazz also just have to adapt more quickly to hot players. Brunson got going early, with 15 points: it’s time to put intensity into defending him, perhaps with a Danuel House-esque player. (House, it should be noted, was not brilliant tonight, with multiple defensive mistakes of his own.) If Maxi Kleber has made more threes than he has in 4 months, it’s time to assume he can do that moving forward, and adjust.

I don’t think either Quin Snyder or the Jazz’s players adapted quickly enough to the evolving threat, and that’s been a continual issue we’ve seen during the playoffs, this year and in years past.

3. Responsible Rudy Gobert touches

I do want Rudy Gobert to get the ball more. It’s just not a good use of resources to have the league’s leader in field goal percentage and get him one shot, as he had in Game 1. He needs more.

What the Jazz do not need is more Gobert touches in bad situations — and we saw that too much tonight.

A straight Gobert postup is a terrible idea. I’m OK with this in preseason, because who cares. In the playoffs? Against a non-mismatch? It can’t be the move. Only Gobert and maybe his close relatives would accept this kind of opportunity when compared with any other option.

Gobert had four turnovers in the first half, that was one of them. Credit him for not getting more, I suppose, but four’s not a great number for a whole game, either.

Where I do want to see Gobert get the ball more is on stuff like this: He has his man sealed down low, but Conley drives and goes for this low-percentage floater instead.

Essentially: Gobert post-ups are bad. Attacking switches when Gobert has a seal down low under the rim is good.

Now, the Jazz have had Gobert for nine seasons now and never really figured out this balance consistently, so again, I’m not sure if I truly believe in improvement here. But so much of the conversation around Gobert is about how many touches he gets down low that I thought it was worthwhile to make sure we indicate the kind of touches he gets is important, too.

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