The Triple Team: Utah Jazz crunchtime execution, Bojan Bogdanovic’s tough-nosed defense lead to Game 4 win over Mavericks

Plus: How last year’s Sixth Man of the Year came up big at Vivint Arena

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The fans try to get the Jazz Bear's attention during Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Salt Lake City.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 100-99 Game 4 win over the Dallas Mavericks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Everything the Jazz did well late

The Jazz have been playing poorly in fourth quarters all season long, including in these playoffs. Tonight, they performed quite well, and it’s worth listing what went right, in hopes that the Jazz can duplicate it moving forward.

• They defended their behinds off. The Mavs were trying to switch-hunt, again, but this time, it was Luka Doncic trying to find Rudy Gobert on the switch. I’m not sure if that’s super wise. Doncic finished with nine points, 3-7 FG, and one turnover in the fourth quarter, and I think you’ll take that.

But the Jazz didn’t immediately give the switch, either. Bojan Bogdanovic fought through these screens so the Mavericks frequently had to re-screen to get those switches, reducing the amount of time Doncic and the Mavericks had to work on those possessions.

• Brunson was held to 0-3 shooting in the fourth; again, a massive change. While the Jazz got a little lucky that Brunson smoked a layup, there was improved defense on Brunson late, especially when Danuel House checked into the game.

• The Jazz got extra possessions through rebounding. Gobert had three offensive rebounds in the fourth, and Mitchell got his own rebound on a game-saving and-one possession.

Gobert got fouled on all of his offensive boards, and while he didn’t get most of the free throws to go down this time, he still was adding extra points that the Jazz wouldn’t have had otherwise. Meanwhile, Dallas had just one offensive rebound on their own end of the floor.

• They passed the ball late. Ah, and what a middle finger to the narratives it was. The Jazz, down one point, chose to play without a timeout with 19 seconds left. Mitchell took advantage of the attention he drew off the screen, and threw a beautiful lob to Gobert.

• Finally, they played the final defensive possession to perfection. It’s not exactly clear why the Mavericks chose to inbound the ball all the way out 94 feet away from the basket 11 feet away, but they used time on the clock to do that. Then, the Jazz smartly chose to double Doncic, getting the ball out of his hands. That left Gobert to cover two players on the weak side, but he rotated over to impact Spencer Dinwiddie’s shot perfectly.

Of course, we have to note that if Dwight Powell makes two critical free throws with under 20 seconds left, the Mavericks probably win this game. But the Jazz put themselves in position to take advantage of that with the best defense they’ve had all series, while sharing a punctuating offensive moment together as a team.

2. Bojan Bogdanovic’s game-defining defense

A 33-year-old Bojan Bogdanovic guarding Jalen Brunson is not what I expected at the beginning of this series. Theoretically, Brunson should be too quick for Bogdanovic — after all, he’s been too quick for the likes of Royce O’Neale, Jordan Clarkson, and Donovan Mitchell in this series.

But Bogdanovic just fought, all game long, always guarding the best Maverick on the floor. If Doncic was in the game, Bogdanovic took on the assignment; if Brunson was the Mavs’ ballhandler, Bogdanovic was his man. Each player, Bogdanovic guarded for 94 feet. It was a bruising assignment, as Bogdanovic had to navigate screen after screen in order to keep connected to the two stars.

Somehow, he did it.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dallas Mavericks center Dwight Powell (7) is blocked by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Salt Lake City.

Look, maybe I’m a sap, but Bogdanovic’s effort was legitimately inspiring to me. With their backs against the wall, with everyone else falling short defensively in the series so far, Bogdanovic was the one guy who rose his hand and took on a challenge. And according to Gobert, that effort inspired everyone else.

“He set the tone,” Gobert said. “He set the tone for us. Everyone looks at Bogey and says, ‘If Bogey is doing it, why can’t I?’ It’s contagious.”

Gobert’s right: there was a visibly increased effort from perimeter defenders tonight, with Mitchell taking the biggest leap. The Jazz did a much better job at preventing the kind of paint penetration that slaughtered them in Game 2 and 3, this time, the Mavericks took only six shots at the rim all night long.

I think there’s a real case that Bogdanovic has been the Jazz’s best player this series. He’s averaging 22 points a game compared to Mitchell’s 30, but Mitchell’s needed 11 more shots to get his eight more points. Add in the defensive impact he’s made, and I think Bogdanovic deserves those plaudits.

Afterward, Bogdanovic confirmed that it was Quin Snyder’s idea to have Bogdanovic guard the two players, and guard them for 94 feet. Credit to the coach for imagining such a wacky adjustment, and credit to Bogdanovic for making it work.

3. Jordan Clarkson’s efficient scoring

Jordan Clarkson’s averaging 17.5 points per game in this series. That’s something he’s done before in his last couple of playoff runs with the Jazz, but he shot 46% in his first season and 40% in his second season.

In these first four games, Clarkson’s made 60% of his shots, the kind of efficient scoring that makes the Jazz a lot tougher to guard. Tonight, he had a team-high 25 points and a +18 plus-minus, finishing the game over Mike Conley.

What’s going on? Well, as you know, the Mavericks are doing a tremendous job at preventing the Jazz from shooting threes, but also doing a pretty darn good job at preventing easy Gobert and Whiteside dunks down low. That leaves the midrange underbelly a little open, and Clarkson’s really effective at making those 8-14 foot floaters and pull-ups — that’s the bread and butter of his NBA career.

In this game, he was also adept at attacking Luka Doncic. The Jazz really wanted to hunt Doncic whenever possible defensively, figuring that his up-and-down efforts defensively could be exploited, especially as he fights the calf strain. Clarkson was most successful at doing that, scoring on him four times in the first half.

Clarkson, it must be noted, has been hunted defensively when he’s in the game. He put up a very poor defensive performance in Games 2 and 3, but was more solid in Game 4 — one writer, Matt Moore, felt it was the best defensive game of Clarkson’s career. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but Clarkson’s performance overall certainly helped the Jazz even the series at 2-2.

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