Jazz Outlast Hot Shooting Lakers, 117 – 110

April 3rd, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

Despite 26 points from Los Angeles Lakers’s rookie Kyle Kuzma, Donovan Mitchell’s (45) matching 26 points helped his Utah Jazz to a victory. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Story of the Game

The Utah Jazz’s 117 – 110 home win over the Los Angeles Lakers lifted them into fifth place in the Western Conference playoff standings, but the victory didn’t come as easily as predicted. With Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Luol Deng, and Isaiah Thomas all unavailable, the Lakers had only nine players to put into action against a team that had won 25 of its last 30 games.

But like many young teams in the NBA, when the Lakers play with pace they can get things done on the court. They came out of the game screaming fast and steaming hot, making their first eight shot attempts. Utah’s offense largely kept pace, posting an impressive 62 percent effective field goal percentage in the period. But the Lakers scorching 70 percent was good for a 31 – 24 lead at quarter’s end.

Both teams had shooting  hands hot enough to fry an egg. The Lakers’s rookie sensation Kyle Kuzma had 15 by halftime and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 14, while requiring only 15 shots combined between the two players. The Lakers drilled nine of 15 three point shots in the half. 

Utah countered with its not-so-secret offensive weapon: Ricky Rubio. After demolishing his former Minnesota teammates by scoring 23 last game, Rubio bettered that production by piling on a career-high 25 first-half points against LA! Four the second straight game, the Spaniard made four threes in the first half. 

And just as against the Timberwolves, Rubio’s offensive heroics lifted his team. In what proved to be the determining passage of the game, Utah used a 41-point second quarter to go on a 34 to 17 run across the end of the second period and into the third, eventually building a lead of 15 points.

But the Lakers never stayed cool for long, and their 14 threes on 28 attempts (50 percent) allowed them to keep clawing back into the game.

Utah’s offensive energy ebbed in the fourth quarter, where they shot only 32 percent from the field. Fortunately, the Lakers simmered low with them, managing only 33 percent shooting. With Rubio and super-rookie Donovan Mitchell combining for 57 points to lead the way, Utah coasted to a seven-point win without ever feeling truly threatened, despite the lackluster fourth quarter.  

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Ricky Rubio (31 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 threes, 7 free throws)

Rubio made four of seven attempts from long range and all seven free throws, so he required only 16 shots to get his 31 points. Perhaps never in franchise history has any Jazz player turned around a season as completely as Rubio. In the death march of December, Rubio looked completely incompatible with this Jazz roster. In that month he averaged nine points on 37 percent shooting and a horrid 24 percent from long range while dishing out fewer than five assists. In Utah’s run of 26 wins to five losses, Rubio has averaged 16 points,  as well as well over six assists and five rebounds a game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 44 percent from three. Along with Mitchell, he has completely carried Utah’s offense through long stretches of important games. If there were an NBA award for most improved player from early in a season to its end, Rubio may well win it. 

Secondary Stars: Donovan Mitchell (26 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 4 threes) and Rudy Gobert (12 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals)

Mitchell added to his own franchise record, notching a fifth straight 20-point game as a rookie. His four of eight shooting from long range was a heartening sign as he’s been struggling with that shot for a prolonged period. He missed two of his four free throw attempts as well as a few layups (and wasn’t happy about it), or his night would have been more efficient than 26 points on 21 shots. But his plus-26 tied for game high with Gobert, showing that with Mitchell on the floor the Jazz continue to mow down opponents. 

Gobert has an equal claim to responsibility for Utah’s starters (or four starters with Jae Crowder) running roughshod over the league for the past several months. This offensive shootout wasn’t the type of game where Gobert easily controls the action, but that didn’t stop him from making a massive impact on the game, especially through his rebounding. The five assists from a center are stellar, as well as good evidence of how Quin Snyder’s egalitarian offense continues to hum even while the league’s best defensive player is on the floor.

Secret Star: None

Crowder did what he does (12 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 block, 3 threes), which is now anything but secret. If he’d been on the Jazz all season he would be making a serious case for Sixth Man of the Year given how dominant the team has been with him in the game. Dante Exum did some good things (6 points, 3 assists, 1 rebound, 1 steal) but wasn’t nearly as efficient as he has been this year, making only three of nine shots. This game was all about Utah’s first six players, which was enough in the end.

Stats of the Game

23 – Second chance points for Utah, an 11 point advantage that essentially won the game.

28 of 61 – Combined three-point shooting between the two teams (46 percent).

29 – Jazz assists for the second consecutive game and their 13th such game this season, all wins.

111.3 – Points allowed per 100 possessions by the Jazz. When allowing offenses to score that efficiently this year, the team is only five and 17.

99.8 – Pace of play, roughly halfway between Utah’s 97.7 season average (25th in the league) and the Lakers’s 102.7 (1st)

Sundries

  • A number of young teams in the league are buying completely into rapid pace this season. The Lakers and Suns play faster than any teams in the league, and the Nets and Hawks are each in the top eight in pace as well. When the Jazz let these teams get the tempo up, they’re vulnerable, especially when the opponent hits threes. If Utah’s offense hadn’t performed as well as it did, this is the type of game they could have lost because they couldn’t control the style of play consistently enough.
  • Utah didn’t help itself from the line tonight, at all. They missed 10 of their 27 attempts while sending the Lakers to the stripe 36 times (though they only made 24). 
  • The Lakers’s bench outscored the Jazz’s 30 to 20. Thank the stars for Crowder. Royce O’Neale’s offense has really abandoned him. He has scored in double figures only once in his last 20 games. 
  • Both Kuzma (26 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal) and Mitchell delivered in a matchup of the NBA’s two highest scoring rookies – and the two greatest steals in last summer’s draft. Each is a dead lock for All-Rookie First Team honors.
  • If the Ricky Rubio from previous seasons was a bruising power forward, he would be Julius Randle. There’s remarkable skill in Randle, who only missed a sixth triple double this season by one assist (12 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists). He can do so much on the floor except shoot, but that limitation often defines his game. If he ever finds a team that can neutralize that limitation somehow (or develop his shot), they’re going to have a player with many of the same attributes as Ben Simmons or Blake Griffin. 

At the time this is written, the Thunder lost to the Warriors and Denver squeaked by Indiana. San Antonio leads the Clippers by a few possessions going into crunch time. Utah has jumped to fifth in the West, leaping over Oklahoma City, and sits only a half game behind the Spurs pending tonight’s outcome.

If things stand as is, Utah would face a Spurs team without Kawhi Leonard in the first round of the playoffs. Net rating and point differential both give Utah a slight advantage in that series, as does the statistical website FiveThirtyEight’s regular season CARM-Elo score. But home court could make a massive difference, especially as the Spurs currently have a losing record on the road for the first time in years. 

If the Jazz can climb one more spot and earn home court in the playoffs, odds swing not only in favor of Utah making the playoffs but likely to advancing to the second round. To make that happen, they have to get a win at home on Thursday against the Clippers.  

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.

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