The Triple Team: Jazz play Pacers in game that sets record for most fouls in an NBA game this season

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Indiana Pacers guard T.J. McConnell (9) takes the ball to the hoop, asUtah Jazz guard Collin Sexton (2) defends, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Indiana Pacers at Vivint Arena, on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 139-119 win over the Indiana Pacers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. The most unwatchable Jazz game in a long time

Honestly, that was a perfect time for the most unwatchable Jazz game.

With the state’s eyes completely turned to the Utes’ victory in the Pac-12 championship game, the Jazz and Pacers slid under the radar and played one of the slowest NBA games you’ll ever see.

First, there were 63 fouls called in the game: 35 for the Pacers, 28 for the Jazz. That’s more than we’ve seen in an NBA game since the 2020 Bubble, and it’s more than we’ve seen in a Jazz game since December 5, 2015 — when the Jazz also beat the Pacers at Vivint Arena. At least that game went to overtime, though, explaining some of the extra fouls.

“It was a weird, weird game,” Walker Kessler said. “I feel like the 3rd quarter was like 45 minutes. It was definitely interesting.”

It’d be one thing if the refereeing was consistent and just militantly attached to the rules — I didn’t think that was the case. After the 3rd quarter featured 17 fouls, there were several contact plays that I thought were fouls in the fourth quarter that went uncalled. Ah well.

One thing that is clearly a Point of Education this season is traveling: the league is calling just a ton of travels right now. In this game, there were seven called. Last year, there were 1.3 travels called per game. Interestingly, unlike most Points of Education emphases, the travel whistles didn’t really start until November:

Here, I think these really are travels, but the refs are currently keeping an eagle eye on pivot foots sliding. Honestly, right now, it feels more akin to the way collegiate officials call their games. This, of course, will probably revert to normal as we move forward in the season.

Even beyond the travels, there were just a lot of turnovers: the Jazz committed 26 (!) and the Pacers committed 19.

And speaking of other stoppages, we had a flagrant foul review, two clock malfunctions, two timeouts for blood on players or the floor, and even an inadvertent whistle or two. Good times.

Anyway, there’s no doubt: the record setting number of whistles will be what this game is remembered for.

2. Jazz offense absolutely cooking

And yet, even in this context, the Jazz were absolutely cooking. It’s not that the Jazz were getting out on the fast break — they actually lost the fast-break points 24 to 8 to the Pacers. They just were killing Indiana in the half court on their way to 139 points.

First, we should note that Rick Carlisle did a good job before the game explaining what he was most worried about in Utah’s offense:

“Utah’s doing some very unique things with their off-ball actions. And it’s interesting because they’re doing it with a couple of guys that are almost seven feet tall that in Olynyk and Markkanen and who are extremely, extremely tall but extremely skilled. ... We had a couple of days to prep for these guys and it’s just going to be hard.”

Carlisle’s right. How many teams have two seven-footers who you can run an off-ball screen involving — and then have one of those seven footers make a step-back in the paint like this?

However, I don’t think that’s what really led to the Jazz’s offensive success in majority. Watching the film, I think the Pacers repeatedly struggled to make an impact with their help defenders... and then the Jazz’s ballhandlers did a really good job of finding the open man where the help was coming from.

Like here, Jalen Smith probably doesn’t need to leap here — it’s going to be a tough shot for a post-spin Talen Horton-Tucker. But he does, and he’s just able to drop the ball off to Jarred Vanderbilt.

Or here’s another THT assist. Should Bennedict Matthurin leave Lauri Markkanen to give up this three? I don’t really think so.

I give significant credit to the Jazz’s ballhandlers for making the right read as many times as they did tonight — you don’t expect that from a young team, but Horton-Tucker (9 assists) and Collin Sexton (5 assists) were great.

3. The defensive combination of Walker Kessler and Lauri Markkanen

As you know, the Jazz haven’t had a great defense this year. They’re allowing 113.4 points per 100 possessions — too many.

However, that drops to 106.3 when Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler share the floor. That’s not a crazy number, but even using the eye test, I see them working together extremely well.

Here’s an example. The Jazz have Markkanen guarding Buddy Hield — perhaps because Markkanen’s length might bother the skilled shooter? (It certainly worked: Hield went only 2-8 in tonight’s game, while he usually averages 14 shots per contest). And Markkanen chases Hield around a screen, not going under to make sure he doesn’t have space to shoot.

So Hield gets the ball and goes to an open paint instead. And look who’s there: Blocker Kessler!

But there’s one more wrinkle: now someone has to get the rebound. Who’s big enough to make sure Myles Turner doesn’t get the board? Well, Markkanen is, and beats him to the spot.

Let’s play it again! This time, Hield’s trying to pass out of that same situation — except Markkanen’s right there to intercept the pass.

Because the Jazz’s other players aren’t involved on the play, they can guard their 3-point shooters elsewhere on the court. Awesome, awesome, awesome work on the two-man defensive game.

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