Utah Surges Late for Easy 126 – 107 Victory over Clippers

December 1st, 2017 | by Clint Johnson

Alec Burks (10) was the fastest, and best, player on the floor in Utah’s 126 to 107 thumping of the injured Clippers. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

Story of the Game

If Utah wants to make the playoffs, the one thing they cannot survive is bad losses. Midway through the third quarter, this game’s looked like it may end up one of those bad losses. A Clipper team missing four starters–Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari, and Milos Teodosic–was leading 81 – 74 on the back of 66 percent shooting and a parade to the free throw line. Austin Rivers of all players had scored 25 and dished six assists, Utah’s defense was reactive and slow, and the Jazz’s recent dependence on offense looked to have set them up for a bad loss to an inferior team they couldn’t stop.

Then, perhaps realizing a roster depending on the offensive brilliance of AUSTIN RIVERS was torching them, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder made a change. Utah began to blitz and trap ball handlers off screens, going onto the defensive attack.

From that point on, Utah outscored LA 52 to 26.

The Clippers lacked any ability to stop Utah’s offense, or even slow them down. The only bumps in road to 126 points were misses on quality shots or careless turnovers, such as a spate by Ricky Rubio to start the fourth quarter. When Utah’s defense–the team’s cultural and competitive center of gravity–finally engaged, the Clippers had no chance.

LA shot 35 percent in the final 18 minutes, turning the ball over six times in the fourth quarter alone while seven Jazz players ended the game with 12 or more points.

It took a while, but when the Jazz decided to play all out, they thumped an under-talented team, notching their fifth blowout victory in six contests to climb back to a winning percentage of .500 on the season.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Alec Burks

If a person had to name a Jazz unicorn1, there would be a number of fine candidates in recent years. Dante Exum, with half his career lost to injury. Derrick Favors, so diminished after once being a star in grooming. But no candidate is better qualified than Burks, who Dwyane Wade once famously named as the most underrated player in the league. This season he’s been healthy, played himself solidly into the rotation2, and shown that maybe a bit of that fabled magic is real. Burks was terrific tonight, scoring 28 on fantastic efficiency (11 of 17 field goals, 4 of 6 from three, and 2 of 2 from the line) while adding 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and a block in 29 minutes of play. Most impressive of all, Utah outscored LA by 30 with Burks on the floor. Early this season, Utah’s offense suffered mightily from a lack of shot creators, foisting that role on rookie Donovan Mitchell, Rubio, and Hood. All three suffered from trying to fit that need. If Burks can continue to contribute as he has in the last week, he provides a player naturally suited to that creator role the team so desperately needs.

Secondary Star: Donovan Mitchell

Mitchell’s swagger was on full display tonight as he scored 24 points. He jacked another 10 three pointers, making five, and shot nine of 16  overall. Add in six assists and a steal and it’s easy to overlook that much of Rivers’ Kyrie Irving impression came with Mitchell defending him. The rookie is an engaged and capable defender, but he still takes too many risks and often plays unwise, aggressive angles. But Mitchell is impossible not to appreciate, especially when he does things like this (and he does often):

Secret Star: Derrick Favors

While Favors produced an impressive stat line of 12 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal while facing off against DeAndre Jordan, historically a tough match up for him, he was quiet for much of the night–certainly not as noticeable as the high scoring guards Burks and Mitchell. Yet Favors seven offensive rebounds, one more than Jordan, helped Utah get 15 more shots than LA. They were particularly valuable in the third quarter, where Utah scored 12 second chance points after managing none in the first half. Those offensive rebounds were the first real sign of Jazz players exerting physical will on their opponent all night, which stole some of the Clippers’ energy and enabled the massive Jazz run to close the game.

Stats of the Game

38 – Jazz assists, a new season high. Ingles, Rubio, and Mitchell all dished 6, Burks and Royce O’Neale of all people added 5 each, while Favors contributed his 4. The Jazz high all last season was 31. They’ve now matched or exceeded that three times in 22 games this year.

19 – Utah’s advantage in bench scoring. All but six of the team’s 49 bench points came from Burks and Thabo Sefolosha (15 points).

17 – Three point shots made by the Jazz, one shy of the franchise record for a game they posted five days ago against Milwaukee.

9 – Field goal attempts by Ricky Rubio. He has 10 or fewer field goal attempts in the last 10 games, six of which are Utah wins. In the previous 12 games, he shot 10 times or fewer only four times. It’s been a rough path, but he seems to be finding a way to be himself on this roster. When Gobert returns…

54 – Points in the paint, an excellent number against a team with DeAndre Jordan patrolling the lane.

Sundries

  • The Clippers offense was, as often as not, give the ball to Rivers so he could dribble between his legs several times and then take a mediocre shot or drive to the basket. When that didn’t work, substitute Lou Williams. Occasionally, throw a screen in there. That LA shot as well as they did until midway through the third, given their dearth of talent and frequent lack of ball and player movement, must have had Snyder fuming from every orifice. As soon as Utah started attacking the Clippers’ ball handlers, swiping at balls and blitzing screens, LA fell apart.
  • Entering the season, it was no secret Utah intended to bolster its offense with more scoring in the fast break. That hasn’t happened to say the least. Entering the evening, the Jazz ranked 28th in the league in percentage of their points scored in the fast break. Tonight illustrated why. The Jazz botched a number of open court opportunities: overthrowing a long outlet that sailed out of bounds; showing indecision that cost them opportunities; running a three on two advantage with such a lack of confidence they eventually pulled it out and ran a half court set. The Jazz managed a paltry six fast break points against a team that turned the ball over 19 times. This has got to get better.
  • Utah’s depth really showed tonight, as it is increasingly this season. Not only is Burks returning to the form that had many talking about him being a future Sixth Man of the Year candidate, but Sefolosha has been rock steady, Jerebko’s been better than expected as the team’s stretch four3, and now O’Neale, who entering this season wasn’t even an NBA roster guy, is legitimately contributing. He had 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals tonight. If Hood and Joe Johnson return and the team can mostly stay healthy, there are plenty of pieces to make Snyder’s egalitarian motion offense churn. Between fleecing teams4 for stars in the draft (Rudy Gobert and now Donovan Mitchell) to finding diamonds in the rough (Joe Ingles, Raul Neto, and now O’Neale), Dennis Lindsey is one of the best general managers in the league, hands down.
  • The Clippers have a toxic situation on their hands. Griffin is a true superstar but he just can’t stay healthy. Jordan isn’t the kind of player who can make a team competitive, as impactful as he is on around the rim. Rivers got in a near shouting match with a Clippers fan on the front row, losing his temper after only a single game without Griffin in the lineup–and remember that Chris Paul made it clear that Doc Rivers’ blatant nepotism in bringing his son to LA was a major reason the All Star abandoned the team this off season. If things go badly with this franchise this season, and there’s a good chance they will, it’s really hard to see what stable foundation they have to build from.
  • There’s no way to avoid anxious speculation about how Gobert will be integrated back into this roster. Since the Miami game where he injured his knee, Utah has made 10 or more three pointers in eight of nine games. They’ve racked up 30 or more assists three times. They’re scoring nearly 111 points a contest. The offense has become devastating. Favors is making a significant impact game after game. If Snyder’s only course is to split time between Gobert and Favors at the center position, the team’s upside this season drops hugely. However, if they can somehow find a way to maintain some of this offensive potency while returning to the defensive dominance the Gobert-Favors pairing has displayed in the past, this becomes a very dangerous team.

The Jazz zip back home for the tail end of this back to back against the Pelicans tomorrow, embarking upon the single toughest month any team is likely to face this season. It’s a winnable game, and in December, when those come the team needs to grab them.

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.

5 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    Nice job Clint. I just wanted you to know how much I enjoy your game summaries–really good stuff.

  2. John Jenkins says:

    Well said Clint. The stats are nice but the note on where the game changed with the aggressive double team on the Clippers guards was spot on. Derrick seems to have returned to his previous good form. Him waterbortling Donovan says much. The Jazz are headed to. Nice dilemma if solved positively. With Rudy, Joe, Dante, Rodney and Raul out the Jazz have prospered. If the Coaching staff can solve the player distribution of minutes and where they play the Jazz can excel. Part of the excellent 4th qtr was the lack of legs on the part of the Xlippers and the fresh legs of the Jazz won. Minute allocation had fresh Jazz faces on the court nearly the whole game.

    • Paul Johns says:

      Even before the season started, it appeared to me that the Jazz had sufficient depth to platoon two full teams of starting level or almost starting level players—which could allow the Jazz to always have fresh players for the full 48 minutes of every game, even on the second night of back to backs. That might be a way for the Jazz to have a tactical advantage over most teams—even those teams with multiple superstars. Even superstars can get tired and need a rest. If the Jazz could go hard at teams for a full 48 minutes without much of a drop off in performance, that could be pretty difficult to counter, even with multiple star players.

      • Clint Johnson says:

        I agree with you two that depth is a major advantage. For me, everything hinges on how Snyder handles Gobert, Favors, and Rubio. I think they have to find a way (and can) for the first two to play together effectively, but that may mean making some creative and tough choices in regard to Rubio.

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