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The Triple Team: Where were the Jazz’s best defensive players in fourth quarter of loss to Sixers?

Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Tyrese Maxey scores 51 points against Utah Jazz defense.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler (24) and Philadelphia 76ers forward KJ Martin (1) battle for a rebound during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, in Salt Lake City.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 127-124 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Where is the defense?

For the third straight game, the Jazz had a bottom-tier defensive performance against relatively weak or shorthanded offensive opposition.

So I ask: Where is the defense?

I don’t mean that figuratively. I mean that literally. Why are the Jazz’s best defensive players on the bench and not on the floor?

For the entire game, the Jazz had a sky-high 129.6 defensive rating. That fell to 106 with Walker Kessler on the floor. In his 14 minutes, he garnered four blocks, an insane rate. Clearly, the Jazz were better with him out there.

Kris Dunn started slowly defensively, but had one of the best defensive stretches from a guard I’ve ever seen in the third quarter. Tyrese Maxey had 32 points in the first half, and Dunn shut off his water in the third quarter.

Why did Kessler and Dunn play a combined three seconds in the fourth?

I asked Will Hardy about this after the game, and he had what I consider a reasonable answer about Kessler’s minutes. In short, the Jazz wanted to go to a box-and-one with Maxey in the game. In that box zone defense, Kessler is drawn out to the perimeter, where he’s going to be less effective.

Now, personally, I think that Kessler is capable of playing that role about as well as John Collins is — while Collins is certainly quicker than Kessler, Kessler provides significantly better rim protection when he does shift over. You can make a basketball argument, though I think it’s the wrong decision.

With Dunn, Hardy didn’t give an answer. It might have just been an oversight in answering my question — it’s not uncommon when you ask about two players at once. But I simply don’t see why he would have gone away from Dunn in favor of Jordan Clarkson, who was making questionable offensive decisions and wasn’t contributing defensively.

Unless.

The trade deadline is now less than one week away. Instead of playing their best players, I think they’re playing the ones they want to trade.

Frankly, the Jazz have done this repeatedly in the Danny Ainge/Justin Zanik era: the Jazz had determined pretty early on last season that they weren’t particularly interested in keeping Malik Beasley beyond his current contract. As a result, he was very available in trades — and the Jazz played him his 26 minutes per game right up until they traded him. The same was true with Jarred Vanderbilt, who the Jazz played over Kessler despite the latter being clearly the better player.

I’m not sure I agree with that trend overall — I give opposing front offices credit in evaluating the league’s talent beyond per-game stats. But I do think that’s a big part of what happened here.

2. Jordan Clarkson’s efficiency

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