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Short-handed Jazz Change Their Game To Embrace Identity, Beat Wizards

Emmanuel Mudiay #8 of the Utah Jazz handles the ball during the second half of the NBA game (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA – The short-handed Utah Jazz entered their matchup with the Washington Wizards riding an eight-game win streak, but announced they’d be without leading scorer Donovan Mitchell just 90 minutes before the game as the third-year star battled an illness. Led by a big second half from Jordan Clarkson and Rudy Gobert, the Jazz extended their win streak to nine games 127-116.

The Story

Without Mitchell and Mike Conley, the Jazz entered their road game against the Wizards without two of their three leading assist-men on the season. While Mitchell and Conley average just nine total assists combined, they make up 40 percent of the Jazz 22 assist per game average.

Mitchell and Conley combine to average 37.8 points per game or 34 percent of the team’s 109 season average.

Without their starting backcourt and a significant percentage of their offensive production, the Jazz turned to extended minutes from Jordan Clarkson as a scorer and distributor and were rewarded with the matinee victory over the Wizards.

While Clarkson’s 23 points, including 17 in the second half helped to change the game, it was his three late-game assists that turned the game in the Jazz favor. In fact, Clarkson’s three late-game assists were his only assists on the night and they all came in the final 3:13 of the fourth quarter.

With 6:35 left in the game, the Jazz led 109-98. Over the next 3:03 minutes, the Wizards went on a 10-2 run and cut the Jazz lead to just three.

Clarkson’s first assist game with 3:13 left in the game, after a high screen from Rudy Gobert, Clarkson drove to the paint, rose for a layup, but as Wizards defenders collapsed on him, threw a wrap-around pass to a rolling Gobert for a two-handed dunk.

On the next play, after a missed Bradley Beal three-point shot, Clarkson took 6’0 Ish Smith into the post, drew a second defender in Ian Mahinmi and again found a cutting Gobert his second dunk in back-to-back possessions.

Finally, with the Jazz leading by six and under a minute to play, Clarkson, defended by the much slower Davis Bertans took the Latvian forward off the dribble, drove into the paint and kicked the ball out to a wide-open Royce O’Neale who canned a three-point shot and extend the Jazz lead to nine with 24 seconds left in the game.

The three plays encapsulate the identity of the Jazz this season: Adapt your game to fit our gameplan, and we will win together.

Clarkson has always been a dangerous scorer in the NBA but had earned a reputation as a non-passer. However, with the game on the line against the Wizards and Clarkson having found his scoring knack in the second half, he still chose to make the right basketball play three times, finding either Gobert for two dunks and O’Neale for an open three-point shot and those seven points secured the Jazz the victory.

Perhaps most promising about the connection between Clarkson and Gobert was the lack of time they’ve spent on the floor together, a detail that wasn’t lost on Jazz coach Quin Snyder.

“There’s a stretch were Jordan plays where he doesn’t play with Rudy,” Snyder said of Clarkson’s usual rotational minutes, “So it makes sense that that connection [with Gobert] is still developing.”

On a night the Jazz were without their starting backcourt, including their most prolific offensive player and best closer, buy-in from the team’s newest backcourt member shifted the game for the team and extended their win streak to nine games.

The Game

In their previous three home games, the Wizards had defeated the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, and Atlanta Hawks. With both the Celtics and Nuggets more than 10 games over .500, Washington had proven themselves as a dangerous team, especially at home, regardless of who they were playing against.

For the first 27:35 of the game, the Jazz seemed destined to be the fourth consecutive victim of the Wizards top 10 offense. Washington built a double-digit lead on the final play of the first quarter and led 34-24 after 12 minutes.

Bradley Beal who had appeared in just one of the Wizards previous eight games, and hadn’t suited up since New Years Day, but jumped on the Jazz in the first quarter like he hadn’t missed a game. Beal had eight first-quarter points on 4-6 shooting, scoring easily in isolation regardless of which defender the Jazz put in front of him.

By halftime, Beal had 12 points and the Wizards had maintained their 11 point lead, despite 22 first-half points from Bojan Bogdanovic.

Over the first 3:35 of the second half, the Wizards built on their lead, and with 8:25 left in the third quarter, led 77-62, the biggest lead of the game for either team. However, over the next 3:19 of the third quarter, the Jazz answered with a 15-0 run to tie the game at 77, with five different players scoring, and eventually took a 93-91 lead going into the fourth quarter.

In the final period, Clarkson and Gobert contributed eight points each, Joe Ingles added seven, and the Jazz outscored the Wizards 34-25 to comfortably defeat the Wizards.

Gobert finished the night with 21 points and 14 rebounds, his 28th double-double of the season.

Bogdanovic followed up his 22 point first half with nine second half points to finish with 31 points, his eight 30 point game of the season for the Jazz.

Bradley Beal finished the game with 25 points but took 25 shots to get there, and missed all seven of his three-point attempts.

The Big Picture

With the victory, the Jazz continue to build on the NBA’s longest current win streak of nine and have won 14 of 15 overall. The win moved the Jazz into the second seed in the West with a record of 27-12, and a 12-9 record away from home. The Jazz were just 4-8 on the road before their recent hot streak.

Only two Jazz players not named Donovan Mitchell scored 30 points or more for the Jazz last season, Grayson Allen and Jae Crowder. Allen’s game was a bit of a gimmick, coming on the final game of the season when the Jazz didn’t play any starters.

This season, Bogdanovic has eight games scoring at least 30 points in just 38 outings, and the Jazz are 7-1 in those instances. On nights when Mitchell doesn’t have it, or can’t play, Bogdanovic’s ability to carry the offensive load gives the Jazz a weapon they haven’t had since Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer were on the roster.

The Jazz ability to win a game on the road when they were down 15 without their best offensive player is a testament to not just how well the team is playing at the moment, but how good the team is overall. Despite relying on their identity as a three-point shooting team with the best defensive player in the world in Gobert down low, the Jazz were able to beat the Wizards without shooting particularly well.

“It’s amazing for us to have this unselfish of a group,” Bogdanovic said, “We can pick the guy who we want to attack, and whoever stepped on the floor gave us something.”

Emmanuel Mudiay, who started the game for Mitchell, finished the game with 14 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Mudiay has scored in double-digits in four or the team’s last five outings and is averaging 12.8 points per game and shooting 53 percent from the floor during the stretch.

As a team, the Jazz finished just 10-30 from the three-point line, tied for their second-worst outing in their last 15 games, and still got the victory. The team’s ability to win multiple ways provides extra insurance on nights when the three-point shot isn’t falling.

The Jazz will face the Brooklyn Nets in the second game of their three-game road swing Tuesday night. The Jazz beat the Nets 119-114 in Salt Lake City on November 12.