Jazz Clinch Playoff Spot with Lakers Blowout

April 8th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

Joe Ingles, who scored 22, and Donovan Mitchell, who added 28, celebrate the Utah Jazz’s 112 – 97 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, which clenched Utah’s second straight trip to the NBA post-season. (Jeff Swinger / USA Today Sports)

Story of the Game

It required one of the least likely streaks of domination in NBA history, 28 victories in 33 contests, but the Utah Jazz’s 112 to 97 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers sealed their spot in the playoff with two games remaining in the regular season.

With three of their top four scorers on the season unavailable1, the Lakers simply lacked the talent to put up much resistance in this game. While Josh Hart’s 25 points and Tyler Ennis’s career-high 22 kept the Lakers afloat, throughout the first half it was Utah’s atrocious 12 turnovers that kept the score at a mere six-point Jazz lead, 50 to 44.

But when they held onto the ball Utah’s motion offense scored easily, as illustrated by the eight Jazz player with two or more assists. The Lakers, undermanned and inexperienced, simply couldn’t keep the game in striking distance. In a ten-minute stretch spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter, Utah outscored LA 37 to 20, building a 22-point lead that would never dip back to single digits.

By the end of the night, the Jazz had five players in double figures, led by Donovan Mitchell’s 28, and coasted to both a 15-point road win and a secure seat in the playoffs. 

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Donovan Mitchell (28 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 3 threes) and Joe Ingles (22 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, 3 threes)

In the most complete game of Mitchell’s astounding rookie season, he tied his career high in rebounding and fell only one shy in assists while adding 28 points only 18 shots. As he concludes the season, he is universally recognized throughout the league, not as an up-and-coming star, but as an NBA star in full, right now. Perhaps never in the history of the franchise has there been a more complete package of talent, personality, and showmanship. The first rookie to score 20 or more points per game while leading his team to the playoffs since 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony, Mitchell has catalyzed a new era in Jazz basketball. Oh, and tonight he also did this:

Ingles deserves serious consideration for this season’s Most Improved Player award. Today he notched his fourth double-double between points and assists on the season, and after the All-Star break he’s averaged nearly 14 points per game with 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and better than a steal per game. He’s third in the league in three point shooting. I don’t think anyone, literally anyone, Ingles included, thought he could become such a high caliber NBA player. Or that he could do this (just look at Ekpe Udoh’s face):

Secondary Star: Royce O’Neale (15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 threes, +10)

When O’Neale scores efficiently, he’s a game changing player due to his consistently intense defense. Today it took him only seven shots to get his 15 points thanks to making half of his four three point attempts. He led Utah’s bench in plus-minus as a result. When O’Neale contributes 24 minutes like he did today, Utah is nigh impossible to beat.

Secret Star: Derrick Favors (10 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, +30)

Despite inefficient offense (10 points on 12 shots, including two missed threes), Favors led the team in plus-minus by a huge margin, his plus-30 nearly doubling up Ingles’s plus-16  On a night where Rudy Gobert played only 26 minutes and was a measly plus-two in the game due to constant foul trouble throughout, that was massive. A player who can backup Gobert at center as well as Favors does is a luxury no other team in the NBA has. 

Stats of the Game

3 – 30-point quarters by Utah: 30 in the first, 32 in the third, and 3o in the fourth.

35 – Jazz assists, second most this season.

25 – Fast break points scored by Utah, a new season high by a full five points.

75.2 – Points allowed per 100 possessions in Favors’s 33 minutes on the court. That’s dominant defense.

104.18 – Number of possessions in the game, notably faster than Utah’s season average (97.74), and unexpectedly driven by the Jazz.

Sundries

  • The Jazz just won 28 games to only five losses. Without question, the team just completed one of the handful of most exquisite stretches of basketball in franchise history.
  • Today Utah intentionally played with a pace unseen in the entire Quin Snyder era. Between Mitchell and the returned Dante Exum, they have young legs with speed, and they used it to get the ball up the court before the Lakers’s defense on repeated possessions. That the team easily set a season high in fast break points was no surprise. It will be interesting to see if this strategy was dialed up specifically in response to the shorthanded Lakers or if this is something Utah’s coaches are hoping to instill in time to employ to some degree in the playoffs. 
  • The most recent draft was incredibly deep. To consider how deep, consider that Kyle Kuzma, the 27th pick who is averaging 16 points per game this season, was out tonight with an injured ankle. So the Lakers started Josh Hart, the 30th pick, in his place. Hart made a number of impressive defensive plays, including blocking a Donovan Mitchell dunk, and scored 25. He was the last guy picked in the first round.
  • Just look at the Jazz’s statistical profile since January 24th:
    • .848 win percentage (2nd in the league)
    • plus-11.1 point differential (1st)
    • 108.7 offensive rating (8th)
    • 96.9 defensive rating (1st)2
    • plus-11.8 net rating (1st)
    • 62 percent assist percentage (9th)
    • 23.4 offensive rebound percentage (9th)
    • 80.5 defensive rebound percentage (1st)
    • 53.5 rebound percentage (1st)
    • 54.1 effective field goal percentage (7th)
    • 57.6 true shooting percentage (6th)

It’s remarkable that Utah managed to win 28 games in such rapid succession, even more so when one considers that every one of those wins was all but essential to make the playoffs. That motivation, which not all teams throughout the league had, certainly played a role in the astounding statistics above. Is it likely that the Jazz are a top eight offensive team while being the league’s only super-elite defense, as these numbers suggest? Probably not. That would give them a good claim to being the best team in the league.

But is it possible the Jazz just might be as good as their season numbers? The league’s fifth-best point differential. Fifth highest probability to win the NBA title as calculated by the statistical site FiveThirtyEight. Tied for sixth most likely to win the championship in ESPN’s power index. Sixth most likely champion in Basketball-Reference’s playoff probability report.

Are the Jazz, once a dark horse for the playoffs, really a dark horse contender? Are they really that good?

They just may be. 

So Utah has two regular season objectives left. The first, hold on to home court advantage in the post-season. The second, try to further their ascension up the Western Conference ranks to supplant the Portland Trailblazers as the number three seed. 

Two games left. Tuesday at home against an unpredictable and dinged up Warriors team, and then the very next night in Portland in what just might be a single game showdown for third in the West.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.
Clint Johnson

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2 Comments

  1. rvalens2 says:

    What many thought was a crushing blow to the future hopes of the Jazz (the loss of their two primary scorers) has turned into a BIG plus. I believe this year’s team is better than last years because everyone is now a threat to score and everyone DEFENDS. Had Rudy stayed healthy, this Jazz team would have easily surpassed last season’s 51-31 record.

    I can’t wait to see what happens in the playoffs.

    I don’t even miss he-who-shall-not-be-named.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I think they may be better as well, though I am confident their future is brighter. A huge question is whether the Ricky Rubio from the second half of the season is real. If he keeps shooting this way, even if only on wide open threes, that completely changes the team.

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