EMPTYING THE NOGGIN – Stifling defense leads to mammoth run and opening night win

Emptying the Noggin — Defense and depth win it for the Jazz

SUMMARY: A remarkable defensive effort sparked a mammoth 3rd quarter run that ultimately led the Jazz to a 10-point win over the Denver Nuggets, 106-96.
• The question tonight was this: What happens when a great defensive team plays a great offensive team? The Denver offense — which was #1 in the NBA for the last 30 games of last season — was dictating the game for most of the night and led 70-55 in the 3rd quarter. Then, the Jazz’s defense started to take hold by forcing turnovers and flustering the Nuggets’ offense, which whittled the Denver lead down to just five points by the end of the 3rd quarter. The clamps came down full force in the 4th quarter and the Jazz flipped the game entirely.

• The Jazz trailed 70-55 and then led by 103-88 after starting the 4th quarter on a 25-5 run.

• Defense and depth were the story for the Jazz. The Jazz bench’s plus-minus numbers were incredible: Thabo Sefolosha was +25, Ekpe Udoh was +24, Donovan Mitchell was +22 and Alec Burks was +16.

• Alec Burks was terrific in the 4th quarter. He had 10 points in the 4th, hitting two major threes. On the first, the Nuggets went under a pick and Burks rose up and buried the three. He got another look in transition and buried it. Finally, he ball-faked a three on the right wing and drove down the baseline to hit a reverse flip to bring the arena to its feet and force the Nuggets into another timeout.

• The Jazz got great offensive balance tonight. Rudy Gobert led the Jazz with 18 points, Burks had 16, Favors had 14, Johnson had 13, Ingles had 11, Mitchell had 10, Rubio had 9 and Sefolosha had 7 points.

• Each player had spurts in the game to keep the Jazz’s offense going. Ingles hit three 3-pointers in the first half, Favors scored eight straight points to open the 3rd quarter, Joe Johnson was the key late in the 3rd quarter and Alec Burks was a beast in the 4th quarter.

• The Jazz’s defense was incredible. They held a great offensive team to less than one point per possession, allowing just 35 points in the second half.

• The Jazz did this very differently than they did it last year. Last season, the Jazz’s defense was a shell defense that forced bad shots and ran people into Rudy Gobert. Tonight, Utah forced 21% of Denver’s possession into turnovers. Last year, the Jazz were 25th in the NBA in forcing turnovers at 11%.

• Denver is a tough match-up for the Jazz as Nikola Jokic pulls Gobert out of onto the floor and this caused the Jazz a ton of problems in the first half. Denver was knocking down shots and scoring at an alarming rate. The Jazz addressed this in the second half and shut down the Nuggets.

• Rodney Hood was announced as a starter and was then unable to play due to gastric distress which forced rookie Donovan Mitchell into the starting lineup. Hood never got going and the Jazz were a -13 when he was on the floor. Hood went 2 of 4 from the field in 27 minutes.

• The new timeout rules had a big impact on the game tonight. When the Jazz starting to blow the game open, Mike Malone called an early timeout in the 4th quarter but then was down to only two timeouts for the rest of the game. He tried to avoid calling another one as the run continued because he didn’t want to be down to one and the Jazz kept their momentum. Denver is a young team with inexperienced point guard play. The new rules could be very difficult for a team with this type of make up on the road. The veteran presence the Jazz added may turn out to be very valuable with the new timeout rules.

• What an opening night. The first 30 minutes were every fan’s worst case scenario of what the Jazz might look like and the final 18 were beyond what Jazz fans could imagine.

EMPTYING THE NOGGIN — Mitchell was special in a close game finsih for Jazz

SUMMARY: In the final pre-season game of the season the Jazz got a close game experience for the first time and were able to pull out a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers 105-99.
• Donovan Mitchell stole the show throughout the night, but most of all in the final moments. Mitchell connected for the final 5 points of the game to put the Jazz ahead to stay. The Jazz closed the game on a 7-0 run. Mitchell hit an incredibly tough shot on a drive to the basket when he wanted to go with his right hand from 7 feet out, but the defender eliminated that option and he switched to his left hand and hit the shot. Then on the next possession, he hit a catch and shoot three to seal the game. Mitchell finished the game with 26 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists.

• Jazz trailed by 6 with 5:00 minutes left. They trailed 97-95 with 3:55 left and closed on a 10-2 run. Gobert had a jam follow and then split two free throws. Mitchell followed with the next 5 points and Rubio hit two free throws. In that time the Lakers had 1 field goal.

• After the game in our post-game interview Ricky Rubio seemed very impressed by the rookie. Interestingly, he talked about how he is constantly asking questions and trying to learn.

• Rodney Hood only played 4 minutes due to a sore neck. The Jazz also were without Raul Neto (hamstring) and Dante Exum (shoulder) so it left Mitchell to play a significant role and he rose to the occasion. He was terrific throughout the game. After the game, the Lakers press room was buzzing about the play of Mitchell.

• The Jazz played a fairly normal rotation on the back end of a back to back for their final regular season game. Rudy Gobert played 33 minutes and finished with 29 points. He only had 30 or more once all of last season. The Jazz offense is predicated on the pick and roll with Gobert putting pressure on the rim. For all the talk about Hood and others using all of Hayward possessions, maybe it is going to Gobert that has the increased roll in the offense. It still will have to be predicated off getting the ball off of other people’s actions. Clearly, it is the major focus of the offense.

• Ricky Rubio took 18 shots tonight. The Jazz need Rubio to use possessions. He has never played on a team that needs him to take this large a roll in the offense. It will be interesting to see if that helps his shooting. He was 6 of 18 tonight, but he went to the line 9 times, making 8. The free throws were able to make him an efficient offensive player tonight.

• The Jazz closed the game with Rubio, Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Gobert. Johnson is going to be a large part of the Jazz closing offense. He is very calm. He can space the floor and needs attention if he is spotted up or if he has a mismatch he can go into the paint and get that little hood that crucified the Clippers.

• Game was played at a pace of 103 possessions which is about 10 faster than the Jazz a year ago. Pre-Season basketball is usually 4 or 5 possessions faster than a regular season game.

• The Jazz defensive rating tonight was 96.0. That will win a lot of games.

• Jazz defensive rebounding percentage was an incredible 87%. The negative of the night was the Jazz turned the ball over on 19% of his possessions.

• Solid win. Good experience playing a back to back and then having a close game down the stretch.