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Donovan MItchell and Dennis Schroder (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images)
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Jazz Fears Without Bogdanovic Realized In Thunder Loss

Donovan MItchell and Dennis Schroder (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – When it was announced that Bojan Bogdanovic would miss the remainder of the season after undergoing wrist surgery in May, fear spread through the minds of Utah Jazz fans of what the team would look like if it did retake the floor to finish the season. Without Bogdanovic’s spacing, the Jazz would miss their second-best scorer, would lack three-point shooting, would be forced to play without their best offensive mismatch, and would have one of the smallest starting lineups in the NBA. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, all of those fears were realized in a brutal 110-94 loss in Orlando.

The Jazz began the game by scoring just 15 points in the first quarter, their worst offensive outing in any period this year. The team connected on just 8-31 three-point attempts throughout the game, and couldn’t solve the Thunder’s longer, more aggressive perimeter defense.

Without Bogdanovic, the Jazz are left without one of their best possession finishers on the roster.  During the first half of the season, the Jazz routinely drew up plays designed to end up in the hands of the Croatian sharpshooter. Now, without Bogdanovic, the Jazz guards find themselves too often dribbling the ball until late in the shot clock, and having to force desperation three-point attempts at the rim.

When the Jazz aren’t slowing watching the shot clock tick away, Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson find themselves trading off on isolation possessions, with four teammates stagnantly watching the play unfold.

“They got physical and took us out of a lot of our actions,” Mitchell said of the Thunder defense. “We’ve just got to do a better job of handling their pressure.”

While it would be easy to blame both Mitchell and Clarkson for their inefficient play, neither received much help from their teammates. Royce O’Neale, Joe Ingles, and Mike Conley combined to score just 29 points in 70 minutes of basketball. Mitchell finished the game with a team-leading 13 points on 5-15 shooting.

Similarly, Georges Niang, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Juwan Morgan combined to shoot 1-9 from three off the bench. Clarkson added 11 points on a difficult 4-17 shooting.

Jazz Struggle on Both Ends

Unfortunately for the Jazz, offense is only one half of the game. On the defensive side of the ball, the team’s slow-footed defenders repeatedly allowed Thunder ballhandlers to drive into the lane, and either finish around Rudy Gobert or kick the ball out to open three-point shooters.

The Jazz allowed the Thunder to shoot for 10-26 from three, or 38.5 percent. Oklahoma City connected on 53 percent of their shots from the floor, knocking down 41-77 attempts.

Between Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder have multiple offensive initiators that picked apart the Jazz defensive attack. Both Oklahoma City guards are comfortable scoring from the midrange, which forced the Jazz defenders to cheat off of three-point shooters to soft spots in the team’s midrange defense.

As a result, the Thunder guards casually dribbled past Jazz defenders and found wide-open shooters draped around the perimeter.  When the Jazz countered by sticking more closely to outside shooters, the Thunder repeatedly found Steven Adams for easy finishes near the basket.

In total, six Thunder players finished with double-digit scoring figures, led by Gilgeous-Alexander with a game-high 19.

What it Means for the Jazz

The offensive failure against the Thunder a concerning realization for the Jazz who seemed entirely unable to adjust to an opposing defensive gameplan without Bogdanovic in the lineup. With only six seeding games remaining before the beginning of the playoffs. Jazz coach Quin Snyder has his hands full as he attempts to remedy the Jazz many offensive ills.

Snyder tried to downplay the loss of Bogdanovic after the game.

“Not to diminish the fact that we don’t have Bojan, that’s not what happened tonight,” Snyder said. “We’ve got the guys that we’ve got. I like our team, we’ve just got to be better.”

The Jazz won’t find one individual player to replace Bogdnaovic’s contributions and will have to find offense sets that generate better shots for the team’s scorers. However, unless the Jazz supporting cast begins knocking down their three-point opportunities, Snyder’s efforts will be wasted.

Defensively, the Thunder provide a uniquely bad matchup for the Jazz with their ability to operate comfortably in the midrange. Luckily for the Jazz, most teams can’t do that. That should make for better defensive performances against future opponents as Rudy Gobert’s defense at the rim should factor in more heavily.

“We didn’t look like the team tonight that we’ve seen,” Snyder said. “Credit to Oklahoma City. They made it hard, they made it really hard, and we’ve got to be able to execute and compete through those things.”

The Thunder are the first team that had a full game worth of film to scout the Jazz without Bogdanovic in the lineup and the results were ugly. Now, the Jazz must turn the page as they prepare for the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, and hope they can return with a more promising performance.

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