The Triple Team: How worried should Jazz fans be after losing to the Warriors?

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 129-118 loss to the Golden State Warriors from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Sometimes the games are like this

If this were last year’s Jazz, this game could be seen as a benchmark contest. How would the Jazz deal with the offense of the defending champions? Would they be able to make like tough for MVP candidate Steph Curry? Could they find ways to get Draymond Green out of the play defensively and attack the weaker Warriors? And so on.

This Jazz team isn’t that. Yes, they have a good record, but the wins and losses don’t come up in matchup moments, they come in terms of overall development of their play. Did the Jazz get better today? Did they do more to push their championship window open?

And in that context — I can’t find a lot to fault about tonight. The Warriors shot 45% from three tonight, including a first-quarter barrage that put the Jazz down 17 early. The Jazz, meanwhile, were ice cold from three. Some of those looks weren’t great, but to be honest, I’d expect them to make at least a few more than they did in shooting just 24% for the night. If that balances out, the Jazz win.

What about the transition defense? To be sure, there were moments when the Jazz were blasted open at that end. There were also moments when the Jazz shut the Warriors down pretty impressively. Overall, the Warriors had a 46th percentile transition offense tonight. It’s very hard for me to get upset about a 46th percentile performance.

Steph Curry has been perhaps the league’s best player this year. He scored 33, he averages 32 — the Jazz’s defense on him was exceedingly fine, maybe even good. They limited Andrew Wiggins to 20 points on 20 shots. They allowed only six Warriors free throws. They forced 21 turnovers. They did some good stuff.

(We’ll talk about the rebounding in a second.)

And on offense they had a 115 offensive rating despite the shooting woes. That’s great!

In the end, this is just the kind of loss it’s really hard to be mad about. This is an 82 game season, and the Jazz just played pretty well against the defending champs who have a $200 million payroll. The Jazz lost cause they’re not as good as the Warriors on their best nights. So it goes.

Will Hardy and the team would agree with me. The postgame message was about keeping spirits high, and the locker room certainly wasn’t despondent after the game.

As they say, the Suns will come out tomorrow.

2. The defensive rebounding

The item that really did the Jazz in was the second chance points, where the Jazz allowed the Warriors to have 16 offensive rebounds and 27 second-chance points. But the Jazz got 15 offensive rebounds of their own, they just converted the ensuing shot opportunities at a lower rate.

I asked Will Hardy about that: is there anything you can do to make those putbacks harder?

“If you give up the offensive rebound, it’s hard to have a scheme or a plan for what to do there,” he said.

In other words, not really. You just need to do better at getting the rebound in the first place.

I think there are things that the Jazz can do to improve that — but in the end, though, I just don’t think this is a very good defensive rebounding team.

Look at Kelly Olynyk’s career: for eight of his ten seasons, teams have been worse at defensive rebounding when he’s on the floor than when he’s off. That makes sense, cause he’s not a very bouncy center, and only has a 6-10 wingspan. One of his major rebounding strategies is flopping to draw a whistle, but I think it’s the right move, given that he’s just going to get athletically beaten to these balls as is.

Jarred Vanderbilt’s a phenomenal offensive rebounder... but honestly, looking at his statistical record, his teams have been better or equal with him off the floor on the defensive rebounding side of the ball. The element of surprise is less on your side as a defensive rebounder, and he’s just not going to be able to out-muscle some of the bigger rebounders in the NBA.

Lauri Markkanen’s an interesting one: he got a ton of defensive rebounds in his first two years, and the Bulls really benefited from it. In the next three years, he grabbed only about half as many. This year, he’s in between. But it’s hard to ask him to be the primary defensive rebounder when he’s playing small forward and guarding Andrew Wiggins or Bojan Bogdanovic or whoever.

Then you have a bunch of small or slight backcourt guys.

To be sure, the Jazz can be better at this, but I don’t think they’re going to be a good defensive rebounding team as long as they’re starting Olynyk at center. They can still win games despite this. When they were 10-3, they were ranked as the league’s 29th best defensive-rebounding team. It’s not an Achilles heel. It is, though, a weakness.

3. Walker Kessler’s highlight reel

Man, Walker Kessler rules.

He had three blocks tonight in his 20 minutes on the court. What I loved most, though, was that they all came in different basketball situations.

• Jordan Poole has 10 feet of space when he decides to take that midrange jumper, and it’s eliminated in a nanosecond by Kessler. Wow.

• Kessler has to watch the first handoff possibility on the right side of the floor, then track Poole coming from the left, contain him, and then get back to Draymond for the rolling layup. He does, but what impresses me the most is that he does it without making contact: the obvious play here is to block it with the right hand closest to Draymond, but instead Kessler readjusts and gets him with his left hand (his offhand, too). That’s bonkers also!

• “Someone else guard this Andrew Wiggins? No? Okay, I will.” Wiggins isos, Kessler stays big and vertical enough to convince the refs that it’s not a foul. (It might have been a foul.)

Three different blocks, all three very athletically impressive. The first two can probably be made by, oh, 10 players?

Here’s a fun stat: Walker Kessler is second among NBA rookies in Win Shares, behind only Bennedict Mathurin. And, yeah, WS does tend to favor rebounding big men, but you understand why the metrics like him — he’s efficient as all get out offensively, he makes a ton of plays defensively, and grabs a lot of rebounds. That’s all important stuff.

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