Jazz Dominate Drummond, Lakers
The return of Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley allowed the Jazz to coast to an easy victory, holding the Lakers to just 43 percent shooting from the floor despite shooting 42 percent from the three-point line.
With the win, the Jazz take the season series from the Lakers 2-1 and maintain their 1.5 game lead over the Phoenix Suns for the top seed in the Western Conference with just 14 games left to play.
Gobert, Jazz Dominate Drummond
Much was made of the Lakers midseason addition of Andre Drummond who signed with the team after being waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers in late March.
Statistically, Drummond brings an impressive statistical resume to LA, having career averages of 14.6 points and 13.8 rebounds before joining the defending champions.
But while his numbers are impressive, Drummond’s impact was a decided negative against Gobert. The All-NBA center scored 14 points on 5-7 shooting, grabbed 10 rebounds, and blocked two shots. Most importantly, the Jazz outscored the Lakers by 17 points with Gobert on the floor.
Drummond meanwhile scored just eight points on 3-12 shooting, snared eight rebounds, handed out four assists for LA. The Lakers were outscored by 15 points with the center on the floor.
Now, just as the Jazz looked like a shell of themselves on Saturday without Gobert, Conley, Donovan Mitchell, or Derrick Favors, the Lakers won’t look like themselves until LeBron James and Anthony Davis return to the lineup.
However, the Lakers will have significant work to do building chemistry between Drummond and their two superstars over the final weeks of the season, as none of the All-Stars have shared the floor with the lumbering big man.
The Jazz had a simple game plan against Drummond, to put him in the pick and roll at every opportunity until he can prove he can stop it.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, he never showed that he could. The Jazz got lobs, layups, or free-throws by attacking Drummond who finished the game with five fouls despite playing just 28 minutes.
In addition to Gobert’s performance, Conley had 14 points and 10 assists, Joe Ingles had 21 points and five assists, while Jordan Clarkson added 22 points on 9-14 shooting, of which seven makes came in the paint.
“That’s why we’ve been so hard to guard this year,” Gobert said. “We have multiple guys that can attack the paint that are really good finishers.”
Though no team wants to face LeBron James or Anthony Davis in the playoffs, Drummond’s inability to slow down the Jazz attack would give Quin Snyder a clear offensive game plan to open a postseason series, and one the team had enormous success with on Monday.
A Silverlining To The Jazz Recent Injuries
There’s no ideal time to have an injury, certainly not to an All-Star guard like Donovan Mitchell or the leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate like Jordan Clarkson, but there may be a silver lining for the Jazz.
Clarkson missed four games with a reoccurring ankle injury that built up over time, returning to the Jazz lineup in Friday’s come from behind victory over the Indiana Pacers. In the 12 games leading up to the injury, the high-scoring guard had seen a significant drop in his production.
Clarkson was averaging just 14.4 points while shooting 34 percent from the floor and 27 percent from three. Since returning from the eight-day, four-game break, the guard is averaging 22.3 points, while shooting 46 percent from the floor and 33 percent from three.
“There’s value to it even if you’re recovering from an injury, there are other things that you’re doing that let your body heal and regenerate and you can find juice,” Snyder said of Clarkson getting extra rest due to his injury.
“It’s maybe not the ideal way to have that happen but it’s certainly a silver lining a lot of times.”
It may also benefit the Jazz with Mitchell who has missed the last two games for the Jazz after suffering a severe lower ankle sprain against the Pacers on Friday.
Mitchell is set to be reevaluated at the end of the week, at which point he’ll have already missed at least three games and had seven days away from the court and travel. As the Jazz have been looking for opportunities to rest their star players down the stretch, Mitchell’s injury could pay dividends as long as the All-Star guard can return from an ankle sprain as well as Clarkson did from his.
Royce O’Neale Has Big Bounce Back Game
While several players had big performances for the Jazz, perhaps no outing was more welcome than the play of Royce O’Neale who scored 13 points on a perfect 5-5 shooting including 3-3 from the three-point line.
O’Neale has struggled to shoot the ball as much as any Jazzman late in the season despite his impressive early-season numbers. The 3-and-D forward had seen his shooting percentages dip to 35 percent from the floor and just 17 percent from three over his last 13 games, down from 45 percent from the floor and 41 percent from three over his first 43 games of the season.
“I was just taking the shots that were there,” O’Neale said. “Whether I was open and knocking down the three, going to the basket and finishing myself or making plays for somebody else — just playing basketball.”
O’Neale is the Jazz’s best wing defender and will have to play big minutes in the playoffs regardless of how he’s shooting the ball. If the forward can get back to his shooting percentages from the first half of the season, he will be a true weapon on both ends of the floor for the Jazz.
If he doesn’t, teams will bury their worst defender on him in the postseason or play off of him to defend the Jazz more proven scorers. O’Neale shot the ball well on Monday, a welcome sign for the team as they approach the end of the regular season.