Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 121-114 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Transition defense kills the Jazz again
What determines a loss?
Long-time readers know that I like to use Cleaning The Glass to break down what happens during a game. It’s a great all-in-one look at the important statistics at a team level, rather than at an individual level. Here’s the link for tonight’s game.
In particular, tonight I want to look at the “play context” stats: in what context did the Jazz and Clippers get their points tonight? Was it in half-court, on the glass, or in transition?
Okay, so let’s look at this image and break it down. First, we’ll look at the top section.
The Jazz and Clippers both had about 0.93 points per play in halfcourt — nearly exactly even. That being said, the Jazz dominated the glass, getting offensive rebounds 44% of the time they missed a shot in half-court. That led to a lot of putback opportunities, which they converted at about an average level: 1.06 points per play. That was a big advantage for the Jazz.
And now let’s go to the bottom section: the Clippers killed the Jazz in transition. They scored 1.73 points per play when they were able to get out and run. And L.A. wasn’t just getting these opportunities off of Jazz steals, but off of live rebounds. The Jazz got a lot of offensive rebounds, but when they didn’t, the Clippers were off to the races 45% of the time.
The orange, grey, and blue numbers show where each performance ranks compared to the other NBA games that have happened this season. So the Clippers gaining 11.6 points per 100 possessions from their turnover game tonight is a 96th percentile performance — and obviously, enough to determine the winner of the game.
Transition defense isn’t that complicated. Will Hardy has one of two options for everyone on the court: either attack the glass with real verve or sprint back.
So this doesn’t look so bad, for example. But what happens?
In my opinion, the culprit for this three is Malik Beasley. He could have cut off John Wall or made an impact on the play, but Beasley’s gait is more of a casual run than an all-out sprint. As a result, Clarkson has to worry about stopping the ball, and then the Clippers get an open three.
Same kind of thing here. Ask yourself: who could have made a different play?
It’s Talen Horton-Tucker. If he sprints back, Wall doesn’t have a one-on-one on Clarkson.
Last week, we were talking to Phoenix coach Monty Williams before the game about transition defense, and he said he teaches his players that they need to be in position to make a play after the first guy gets beat. Clarkson’s cooked meat on those above baskets, but it’s not really his fault: NBA players driving at you in transition are going to score frequently, except perhaps on all-world defenders. But the second man, Beasley or THT, needs to be in position to impact the plays after Clarkson gets beat.
2. The foul call at the end
This is going to be an unpopular section. I apologize.
I think the controversial call at the end, in which a blocking call on the Clippers’ Amir Coffey was changed to a charging foul on Horton-Tucker, was the right call.
Here’s the play, plus the explanation from crew chief Tyler Ford.
“The defender establishes legal guarding position in the path of the offensive player, and the offensive player makes contact to the torso,” Ford says. Yeah, I agree with that.
Take a look at this play from the NBA’s Video Rulebook as an analogue. Raul Neto moves his feet and draws the charge on Kyle Lowry.
There are a lot of similarities, actually. Neto is still moving on the play, just as Coffey is. Lowry creates the contact my driving with force through the defender.
Note that whether or not Coffey or Neto is “set” or “still moving” has nothing to do with the correct call. Nor does it matter where the contact takes place: it can be on Coffey’s shoulder rather than his center of gravity, and still be a charge.
The questions are: A) Is the defender in a legal guarding position? And B) Who initiates the contact? That’s it. And for those reasons, charge on THT was the correct call.
In the end, had the Jazz cut the lead to two there, they’d still only have a 14% chance of winning the game, according to NBA win probability calculators — Clippers ball with the lead with under a minute left. But as a single play, it probably mattered more than anything else.
3. Playing without Mike Conley
So, how did the Jazz play without Mike Conley out there?
Truth be told, it was up and down. In the end, four players can reasonably be said to have held the point guard position, even if only for a few possessions: Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
Clarkson was great. Just one turnover all night, and I thought did a good job of making life difficult on the Clippers’ defenders — even if not in the same way that Conley does.
On the other hand, Nickeil Alexander-Walker was awful. I could clip his turnover passes to the 10th row, but we don’t need that. He had three turnovers, one assist, and was a -14 in the nine minutes he was on the court.
Horton-Tucker had a mixed night. He started well early, with a couple of smart plays. This looks like a completely different player than the one we saw earlier in the season — he’s in control in the paint, fakes a pass, then turns and kicks it to the open Simone Fontecchio for a three. That’s great vision!
But the Clippers’ first-half run was in part created by his turnovers, and he ended up with four on the night.
Finally, Collin Sexton. He’s an adept driver of the ball, and that first step is so useful. But he lacks Plan Bs. He lacks the ability to run the offense without driving, and he lacks the ability to find open teammates once the defense rotates to stop him. He went 5-13 overall from the field, missed six shots in the paint, and had just one assist. (Zero turnovers! But also it’s easier not to turn the ball over when you don’t try to pass.)
Clippers cameras caught Hardy and Sexton having this conversation on the bench:
I’m not an expert lip reader, but I see “It’s not about you” at the beginning there. And that’s exactly what’s holding Sexton back: he’s seeing the game in individual terms rather than collective terms right now. He’ll be far more effective once he opens his eyes to the rest of the court, not just the rim.