Saturday, May 28

The Jazz’s fourth-quarter offense can’t operate without Donovan Mitchell in a close loss to the Warriors

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 94-92 loss to the Golden State Warriors from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz’s fourth-quarter offense falls apart

Between the 8:45 mark and the 32-second mark of the fourth quarter, the Jazz only scored 3 points. Honestly, it’s almost miraculous that the team’s defense was good enough to keep them in contention despite that.

Now, there’s a big reason why: The Jazz don’t have Donovan Mitchell. He is, for obvious reasons, the Jazz’s scorer and threat late in games. Sometimes, honestly, they can go to him too much. But without him, it was a mess tonight: shot clock violations, terrible shots, bad turnovers, just, essentially, a desperate offense.

So why couldn’t they do more? Let’s break it down.

One big problem: poor spacing. Trent Forrest just doesn’t command respect as a shooter — look how much Wiggins can help in the paint on a play like this, and look how unconcerned the Warriors are about their corner three when it comes up.

This affected almost every play when Forrest was in the game, and Forrest had a good game! But with the ability to leave him alone, the Warriors did it often.

Second, without Mitchell and without Gobert for the final 2:30, the Jazz just didn’t have anyone who could overcome a mismatch. This play is after the Jazz forced the trades to get the matchups they wanted: who would you have preferred to attack here?

Bogdanovic has a sentence, at least. Conley, we’ll talk about him later, is going to fight the length of Otto Porter. Joe Ingles can’t go one-on-one, and neither can Royce O’Neale. Eric Paschall can, but I don’t think it’s a winning play against Wiggins. Bogey is probably the best thing you’ve got.

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I guess the Jazz could have put Clarkson in the game, but Clarkson was horrible again: 3-for-13 from the field tonight. He had also played the previous 14 minutes. Kindly, a tired, gassed, cold Clarkson is not the answer.

The Jazz also tried posting both Bogdanovic and Rudy Gay, and neither worked: The Warriors just caved in, forced kicks from Ingles, O’Neale and Forrest, and those guys have slow trigger fingers against quick, athletic shutdowns.

And remember, you can’t run traditional plays against a shifting defense. Well, you can, but they’re likely to be ineffective against players who can’t attack gaps, and this is Conley, two second-round picks and two undrafted guys.

It’s hard. The Jazz need Mitchell back.

2. Bad defense at the beginning, effective defense at the end

The Jazz allowed a 133 defensive rating through the first three quarters of the game; then, magically, he flipped the switch and allowed just 11 fourth-quarter points to the Warriors, even as they were faltering on offense. It was quite impressive, actually. Ugly, but impressive.

We’ll cover the bad, of course. This was the most absurd play of the game, as three Jazz guys just dropped this rebound to the ground for unknown and unknowable reasons.

But something like this is much better: Forrest, who, once again, was excellent defensively, stays up front, Clarkson closes wildly, and Gobert takes care of things in the paint, then everyone breaks glass. There is real effort and determination here.

Late in the game, the Jazz were even having Joe Ingles leave his man to position himself in Steph Curry’s box. The idea was less to make life difficult for Steph and more to try to take the ball out of her hands: they did something like that on three consecutive plays.

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Is this a good idea? Hey, I don’t love it. It worked, though: Three straight 3-pointers were missed, and the Jazz had a chance to win the game.

3. Let’s talk about Mike Conley

Mike Conley is an excellent player.

He is the best shooter on the team in percentage terms, hitting 42% of his three-pointers and shooting just 0.6 fewer shots per game than Bojan Bogdanovic. In particular, his pull-up three on pick and roll is an absolute weapon.

He’s so efficient — he’s got the float and the pull-up, obviously, but he also has the ability to unlock Rudy Gobert’s efficient inside scoring in a way that the other Jazz ball handlers (bar Joe Ingles) just don’t. He went from not knowing how to throw a high pass to being the best passer in Utah over the course of 2 1/2 years, and the floater is a good tool, too.

He’s very smart defensively — his game contributed greatly to Curry’s poor night tonight, sticking with the guy through all his twists and turns. Of course, his size is limited, but he just as often makes the right play. He is also a reliable communicator.

In the press line, the number of times we looked at each other and said something like “Mike Conley is so good” has to be in the hundreds.

I want to be very clear: The Jazz shouldn’t trade Mike Conley. They would immediately become much worse. Mike Conley for Marcus Smart, or whatever, doesn’t make the Jazz any better.

Although he is getting old.

Its use is declining: it has gone from 23% last year to 20% this year. He has been reduced to taking just 7% of his shots around the rim. And at this stretch, without Mitchell, he has yet to eclipse 12 shots in a game. Nor is it so much to admonish his teammates: he has not eclipsed the four assists in a game either. Tonight, he was 3-for-10 from the field, with two assists, in a game where the Jazz desperately needed him to pick up the slack.

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And make no mistake: 2019 Conley takes charge of this game with some key baskets during the fourth quarter. 2022 Conley couldn’t. This was a bucket the Jazz needed, and Conley didn’t have much of an answer. He’s trying to foul here, but the scam is his best weapon in the paint right now.

I also don’t want to show you his rotation when he tries to isolate Steph.

I don’t think this matters much when Mitchell is healthy. When Mitchell is on the court, he usually has the ball in his hands. And Conley’s lineups are +11 without Mitchell on the floor, still very good. It’s not really a problem.

But when Mitchell isn’t healthy and Conley faces rival starters, the Jazz really don’t have enough firepower: It’s Bojan Bogdanovic as the No. 1 option, with Conley a distant second or third instead of the leader he would be. have been before. And that likely means the Jazz couldn’t survive a long-term loss of Mitchell.

We knew the Jazz couldn’t survive a prolonged Gobert injury before now; and with Conley at this stage of his career, it means they can’t survive one from Mitchell either. Conley simply can’t work as a first choice.

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