SPORTS

Stellar Defense, Clarkson’s Spark Power Jazz To Easy Victory

Dec 30, 2019, 11:03 PM
Jordan Clarkson against the Detroit Pistons...
Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) dribbles around Detroit Pistons forward Thon Maker (7) during an NBA game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. The Jazz won 104-81.
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz beat the injury-riddled Detroit Pistons 104-81. The Jazz ended 2019 having won nine of 11 games, and are nine games over .500 entering the new decade.

The Story

On a night when the Jazz offense struggled to get going, the Pistons were more than happy to let the Jazz defense control the game. The Jazz allowed the Pistons to score 21 points, 19 points, 18 points, and 23 points over the four quarters and shot just 38 percent from the floor and 28 percent from the three-throw line. 

The Pistons were the fifth-ranked effective field goal percentage team entering the game shooting 54 percent but shot just 40 percent against the Jazz. The Pistons cold-shooting percentage registers in the bottom three percent of shooting outings by any team this NBA season, and their 81 total points is in the bottom one percent, and tied for the fifth-worst scoring output in the NBA this season.  

Detroit entered the game without multiple starters, as Blake Griffin was a late scratch due to knee soreness. Markieff Morris missed the game with a foot injury, and guard Reggie Jackson has appeared in just two games this season. 

Meanwhile, the Jazz are playing their best basketball of the year. 

The Jazz defense has allowed 107 points or fewer in seven of their last eight games, and are getting a more consistent performance off the bench spearheaded by Jordan Clarkson’s 20 points. Clarkson is the first Jazz player this season to score 20 points with the second unit. 

“I’m trying to pick everything up as quickly as possible and keep progressing,” Clarkson said. 

Clarkson shot 7-13 from the floor and 4-7 from three. Overall, the Jazz bench was a positive plus-minus, finishing +25 led by Clarkson’s +11. 

The Game 

Through the first half Jazz struggled against the Pistons 2-3 zone, routinely getting too far into the paint and having their shots blocked by Andre Drummond, or trying to force interior passes against the Pistons collapsing defense leading to turnovers. 

Mixed with a poor shooting night, and the Jazz made just 13-39 field goals after two quarters and trailed 40-39. 

“If you shoot the ball without a pass it doesn’t allow you to have other things to unfold,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of his team’s first-half offense, “it has a lot to do with angles and how we’re attacking and there’s some subtleties that our guys have really worked hard on and we’ve done a good job with and I think we adjusted to that as the game went on, too.”

Bojan Bogdanovic continued to struggle inside the arch, sinking just 1-7 shots to start the game. Entering the night, the Croatian forward had shot better than forty percent from the floor just one time in his previous five games. To Bogdanovic’s credit, he’s scored 16 points or more in each of those outings. That continued against the Pistons, were despite shooting just 6-15, Bogdanovic finished with 17 points. 

The second half told a different story offensively. 

The Jazz opened the third quarter on a 16-2 run to extend the lead to 55-42 and the Pistons never responded. The Jazz held a double-digit lead at the end of the third quarter and coasted to an easy victory. 

“I think the biggest thing was we hit shots,” Donovan Mitchell said, “We continued to get stops through the entire game.”

Mitchell finished with a game-high 23 points on 7-15 shooting.

The Jazz scored 65 second-half points, shooting 59 percent from the floor and 53 percent from the three-point line to close out the Pistons. 

The Big Picture

The Jazz are playing their best basketball of the season, just as they enter one of the easiest stretches of basketball on their schedule. Over the next nine games, the Jazz will face just two teams currently in the Eastern Conference Playoff picture, the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets, and neither are serious contenders for home-court advantage. 

Defensively, the Jazz began the season with the top defensive rating in the league over the first two weeks of the season but saw that number slip back to 10th entering Monday’s game against Detroit. 

“I think our defense can improve a lot,” Gobert said of the Jazz defense through the first 33 games of the season, “Obviously tonight we did a great job but I feel like we’ve got to be able to do that every night.”

Gobert added 13 points and 19 rebounds for the Jazz. Monday night marked the fifth time this season Gobert has grabbed 19 rebounds in a game.

Just as the team’s offensive rating has improved over the month of December, the team’s defense seems to once again be finding its groove. If the Jazz can continue to improve their defensive consistency, it’s not difficult to imagine the team once again competing for one of the top five defenses league-wide. 

The Jazz head out on a three-game road trip to begin 2020, starting against the Chicago Bulls, moving to the Orlando Magic in the second stop, and finishing against the New Orleans Pelicans. The three teams are a combined 38-63.

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