In Battle Of Top Offenses, Jazz Defense Bests Mavericks
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz continued their streak of hot play with a 112-107 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. Against the best offense in the league, the Jazz found a way to win with a defensive performance to remember in the second half.
It’s not hard to see why the Dallas Mavericks have the best offensive rating in the NBA. Luka Doncic, the league’s most exciting young looks like he was created in a lab and unleashed on a crowd of unsuspecting wing defenders.
Worse yet, even when those defenders prepare for him, there’s very little they can do.
Doncic, in just his second season, stands 6’7 and 220 lbs, has fantastic speed for his size, is as strong as an ox, and thinks the game as well as any 20-year-old in NBA history. For the season, he’s averaging 29 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists.
Against the Jazz, it looked like he was going to coast too, and easily surpass his mind-boggling averages. In the first quarter, Doncic scored 12 points, grabbed three rebounds, and handed out three assists, while shooting 5-9 from the floor and never committing a turnover.
Doncic looked like the Frankenstein monster, while Jazz defenders looked like a cast of innocent townspeople suffering a terrible fate when coming across the incredible creation.
When the Jazz could prevent Doncic from getting to the rim, he’d simply kick out to an open shooter and the Jazz were toast.
“They’re a unique team offensively,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, “And particularly in the first half the floor is so open and they drive and there’s such a tendency to help and that’s when they really both punish you from the three-point line and the slashers and the offensive rebounds.”
Then the change came.
The Jazz outscored the Mavericks in the second quarter 30-22 in large part due to an improved defensive strategy that allowed Rudy Gobert to drop back into the paint and protect the rim, giving the Jazz wing defenders a second rim protector to provide support off of Doncic’s dribble.
After an eight-point first quarter, Quin Snyder went with a smaller defender against the 7’3 Kristaps Porzingis in the second quarter, preventing Gobert from getting caught away from the rim against the dangerous Mavericks offense.
“We changed matchups,” Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic said after the game, “We put Joe or me on Porzingis, and we put Rudy on [Dorian] Finney-Smith”
Porzingis was held scoreless in seven second-quarter minutes, handing out one assist but turning the ball over twice in the period.
Gobert scored 11 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked two shots in the quarter, and kept the Jazz in the game while the Jazz offense struggled to find its rhythm.
“I thought [Gobert] kept us in the game in the first half,” Snyder said, “There was a timeout when our whole team was talking about defending, I was talking about a couple of nuances defensively and they shut me up… Rudy was at the center of that.”
After a brilliant opening quarter from Doncic, the Jazz held the second-year superstar to just four points and held him without an assist or a rebound in 5:27 on the floor.
The Jazz defense got even better to close the game.
Doncic scored just nine second-half points, while grabbing four rebounds and dishing out three assists, but scored just two points in the final quarter when the Mavericks needed him most.
Doncic finished the night with 25 points, seven assists, and six rebounds, all below his league average.
Pogzingis scored just seven second-half points and didn’t grab a rebound or an assist after the half.
After allowing 58 first-half points, the Jazz held Dallas to just 49 second-half points while shooting 43 percent from the floor and 31 percent from the three-point line. Ultimately, Snyder, Gobert and the Jazz adjusted to limit the best offense in the NBA to an offensive rating of just 109.2, seven points per 100 possessions below their season average.
Gobert’s defensive expertise was not lost on Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle.
“He impacts the game massively at the defensive end. He doesn’t just do it around the basket, he does it on the perimeter too on switches. He does a great job of spacing guys when they drive […] Look he’s a great, great defensive player.”
For as good as the Jazz defense was over the final three-quarters of the game, the offfense was equally poor. The Jazz managed to shoot just 42 percent from the floor and 28 percent from the three-point line entering the final quarter.
Bogdanovic, Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, and Mike Conley had combined to shoot just 12-43 from the floor, or 28 percent. In a game that had the build-up of a shootout between the league’s best offense for the year and the league’s best offense for the past 20 games, neither team seemed particularly potent on the offensive end.
Mitchell particularly appeared to be rushing shots, while Clarkson struggled on both ends of the floor and was unable to take advantage of mismatches the way he seems comfortable doing most nights.
However, as great scorers can in the NBA, Mitchell appeared to need to see the ball go through the hoop just once before he once against found his shooting stroke. After subbing in with 3:13 left in the third quarter, Mitchell knocked down a 12-foot jump shot on the baseline on his first touch to trim the Mavericks lead to 82-74.
Mitchell would see a 22-foot shot drop before the end of the period and it was clear the guard had found his shot when the Jazz needed him most.
After starting the game 4-16 from the floor, Mitchell made 5-9 field-goal attempts including 3-4 from the three-point line over the final 15 minutes of the game to finish with a game-high 25 points.
“We handled our business,” Mitchell said, “I think at the end of the day we showed a lot of composure, we knew what we wanted to go to. Bojan stepped up big time at the start of the fourth.”
Bogdanovic rounded out the night with 23 points, including eight in the fourth quarter and on 3-4 shooting in the final period and 2-3 from three.
In what was the opening game of a truly tough stretch for the Jazz the team showed remarkable resilience despite not facing a team as talented as the Mavericks in several weeks. The Jazz are now 19-2 in their last 21 games and sit in the second seed in the West with an overall record of 32-13.
Mitchell’s big fourth quarter included two clutch free-throws two push the Jazz lead from two to four and essentially end the game. Those are situations Mitchell has struggled with at points in his career.
“I can remember a few games where I missed a free-throw,” Mitchell said recounting his career clutch free-throw misses, “Milwaukee, Philly, and OKC last year. I can remember all of them.”
As Mitchell’s stardom grows with an expected selection to the All-Star game this year, he should find more respect from officials getting to the free-throw line, and knocking them down at the biggest moments will be key for his further development.
Gobert scored 22 points for the Jazz, it’s his fifth time in six outings that Gobert has eclipsed the 20 point mark. Before the season the Jazz seemed particularly dangerous because of both Mitchell and Bogdanovic being a threat to score 20 a night while being aided by Mike Conley or Joe Ingles. Gobert has now become a major threat each night to cross that threshold, and it’s one of the reasons the Jazz are the best offensive team in the league since mid-December.
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