On Friday night, the Utah Jazz put on a defensive display that harkened back to their league-best defense in the second half of last year's regular season. Despite being incredibly shorthanded on guards (missing Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, Sefalosha, Neto, Grayson Allen), Jazz stars Donovan Mitchell(33 pts, 4 rebs, 9 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks, 14/24) and Rudy Gobert (12 points, 18 rebs, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks) came to play in a home-town shellacking of the Los Angeles Lakers, 95-113.
After scoring 41 two days ago, Kyle Kuzma just didn't have the same juice tonight (11 pts, 8 rebs, 4/18 FG). Lonzo Ball shot like shit tonight, but his all-around hustle game (7 points, 7 rebs, 6 assists, 2 steals, 3/13 FG) spurred a late third quarter rally that almost saw the Lakers bring it to single digits. The end of that third quarter was the last time this one felt like a game. It's too bad the Lakers didn't put up more of a fight in the beginning, but hats off to the Jazz for the convincing victory.
Rhythm Of The Game
The beginning of the first quarter was alllll Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz were extremely shorthanded on players, so Mitchel tried to establish a rhythm early on. Despite the personnel disadvantage, the Jazz's defense held up well en route to a 26-32 advantage after the first quarter. The Lakers had a tougher time getting anything in the key compared to recent games, but their three-point shot was successful enough to keep them in it.
Utah got familiar with a ten-point lead as the Lakers struggled to set an offensive rhythm. Ivica Zubac was the beneficiary of a few buckets, despite being matched up with a rim-protecting savant in Rudy Gobert. Still, LA needed more than Zubac to make a dent in this tough road game. Kyle Kuzma was 0/4 with a +/- of -6 in twelve ineffective minutes. It wasn't just him though. Brandon Ingram got a couple dunks early, but he just wasn't finding the same success on his drives thanks to the length of Rudy Gobert. Meanwhile, the team decided it was a great idea to foul players in the act of shooting along the three-point line. Both those things had to change ASAP. The Jazz were large and in charge 34-46 with seven minutes to play.
Utah was on the cusp of running away with this one in the following sequences. Big block after big block, am instantly viral Donovan Mitchell dunk on McGee, and the raucous energy of their home arena were about to spell doom for the Lakers. Twenty-one point Utah lead heading into the half, 41-62. Things just started feeling a liiiiittle hopeless for the Lakeshow. Their weapons of successful game's past (BI driving to the rim, Kuz's shooting, low turnovers) were nowhere to be seen thank's to Utah's strong defensive showing.
The start of the third was an even bigger dose of Utah Jazz basketball hedonism. The Lakers managed to stay afloat of in the sense of only staying behind by twentyish points instead of thirty. The size of that deficit kept them in position for a miraculous comeback if one was ever going to happen.
Lonzo Ball was a driving factor in keeping the purple and gold in this. His playmaking and effort plays (7 points, 6 rebs, 5 assists) kept the possessions alive while setting up teammates for open looks. That hustle culminated in an 8-0 run that saw the Lakers cut the once-twenty point lead to twelve, 64-76. The Lakers still had some fight in them, but some questionable calls coupled with their inability to capitalize on open shots had them staring at a fifteen point hole to enter the fourth, 68-83.
Comeback time was now or never. Luke decided to start the quarter with his bench mob in this critical juncture....to which I was like, "What the hell Luke?" The Jazz immediately made them pay with an eighteen point lead. The team seemed to fall apart once Lonzo Ball sat. The young baller was in foul trouble though, so Luke decided to hold him out. It may have been worth the risk though, as Utah really pulled away in the fourth for an eighteen point win, 95-113.
Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder is one of the best in the game at his job. You just know that he and his staff put in the work to see what made the Lakers successful in the last couple of games - then they proceeded to take that away from them.
The main thing was that they took away the driving lanes from the Lakers. Every shot in the paint was either heavily contested, resulted in a foul, or just was outright blocked( ). The Lakers are a decent shooting team, but their collective jumper just didn't have enough juice to carry them when the lane was taken away all game. That incredible rim protection by the Jazz was the deciding factor in this one.
This excellent performance starts to make sense for the Jazz when you consider that a win tonight put them only one game behind the Lakers for eighth place in the West. Given the Laker's shaky play without LeBron and the reliable energy of their Salt Lake City home crowd, the odds were in Utah's favor from the get-go.
The Lakers will travel back to the comfort of LA's Staples Center to take on the floundering Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. Given their inconsistent play without LeBron, I'm not so sure they'll pull off an easy win over the Cavs. I have a feeling Jordan Clarkson may go HAM on his old team because he did last time they matched up. Michael Beasley had to exit the game in the waning seconds which is a huge blow to our bench scoring. Beas had a tough night, but he'd put up some great defense and an efficient scoring display in these last two wins. Let's see if they have it in them on Sunday evening.