The Utah Jazz was the story of the second half of the season after they dug out of a 19-28 hole and finished 48-34 and got the five seed in the west. They did it with defense, which ended up best in the league behind likely defensive player of the year in Rudy Gobert. Donovan Mitchell carried the scoring load, Ricky Rubio rediscovered how to play basketball again, and Joe Ingles is the master jack of all trades player.
Their lineups with Jae Crowder at the four have wrecked the league, but that all came to a screeching halt in game one at Oklahoma City. The Thunder smacked the Jazz in the mouth and was the more physical team for the entire game. OKC won 116-108, and it wasn’t even that close. A random Alec Burks explosion at the end made it closer than it was. So what can the Jazz do to even series in Game 2 on Wednesday? Disclaimer I am writing this assuming Donovan Mitchell will play.
Three Point Defense
The Thunder made 14 threes in game one, and of course eight of those came from Paul George. OKC took the JAzz out of their comfort zone by spreading them out and even forcing them to trap a bit, something Utah doesn’t like to do. Utah and Gobert like to protect the paint, and they did a good job holding the Thunder to 32 paint points. That is good, but there needs to be more balance. Utah needs to force George, Alex Abrines, and Carmelo Antony to put the ball on the floor and either dare to challenge Gobert at the rim or become playmakers. Only George scares as a passer, and that is the lesser of two evils between him playmaking or drilling threes. They need to make Brewer especially and Abrines put it on the floor. Watch this clip.
Here Abrines catches it at the top of the key off a feed from Westbrook. O’Neale does a good job running Abrines off the three-point line, making him put the ball on the floor and forcing him to go up for a midrange jumper and Gobert comes and easily blocks the shot.
Here is the wrong thing to do against a guy like Abrines. The Thunder have the star power edge in this series; they can’t also get hurt by guys like Abrines.
Melo sets a screen for Abrines and O’Neale makes the mistake of going under. That leaves far too much space for an easy three. This is a small thing that can’t happen.
With George its a little different, because he is Paul freaking George. He made some very tough threes in game 1 that if your the Jazz you just tip your cap. However, off offensive rebounds, they need to keep track of him. OKC only had nine offensive rebounds for the game and only four for Adams, but they were killer. This Adams offensive rebound led directly to a George three.
Adams gets an offensive rebound and kicks it out to Westbrook who finds George for an easy three. Ingles makes the mistake of choosing to contest a Westbrook two instead of a wide-open George three. George needs to be accounted for at all time; he thrives in chaos.
Make Melo Work on Defense
Melo has been the butt of many jokes this season and rightfully so. He was good in game one. Melo had 15 points, seven rebounds, three turnovers, two blocks and finished plus one for the game. Utah needs to punish Melo on defense any chance they get. It is not their style to target one player, but in the playoffs, they should. Targeting Melo and putting him through multiple actions will inevitably lead to Melo messing up. Making him work on defense can also affect his offense. Two ways they can attack the Melo. The first way to attack him in pick and rolls, and Mitchell and Favors is the best combo to do it. Favors is big and strong enough to get good contact on Melo and if its a switch Melo has no chance to hang with Melo. Watch this play
Favors and Mitchell do a little pass handoff to get Mitchell going downhill. The Favors screen crushed Brewer who starts on Mitchell, and once that happens Melo has no chance to stop Mitchell downhill, and he doesn’t even try. Utah needs to more of this and gets Melo out of his comfort zone. Target him.
The other way is to post up Favors at the start of the game. Favors did not have a great game one, but Utah needs to find more ways to get involved. The post is a good start. Melo is strong, but Favors can take him and get Melo in some foul trouble. This is not a go too for Utah’s offense, but it is something to explore and an excellent way to get Favors involved early.
More Dante Exum
Exum had a strong first game. In 18 minutes he had ten points on four of six shooting and had a couple of great drives. Exum is the only good slasher the Jazz have beside Mitchell. He can put pressure on OKC’s defense and open up things for others. Him and Mitchell together, in particular, is a dangerous lineup that will be tough for OKC to handle. Here is a play that illustrates the pressure Exum and Mitchell can put on a defense.
This is an excellent action between Mitchell and Exum. Mitchell darts to the corner and Exum comes sprinting from the corner and gets the handoff. This opens up a driving lane for Exum. Exum takes two dribbles, and he is at the rim where he finishes with a gorgeous layup over Adams.
Donovan Mitchel at Point Guard Lineups
Mitchell’s health will define this series. He had a great game one. More time at point guard or with Exum bodes well with the Jazz. First, Ricky Rubio needs to chill, 18 shots for him is way too many. Mitchell had 22 shots on 50 percent shooting and he needs to continue to be aggressive. Some more time at point guard should help Mitchell. Especially when they surround Mitchell with shooters. One lineup in particular that did well was Favors at center with Mitchell at point guard, surround by Exum, Royce O’Neale, and Jae Crowder. This gives Mitchell a roll partner, another slasher in Exum and two shooters in Crowder and O’Neale.
The Thunder hit a lot of tough shots in game one. Utah likely won’t have to deal with that again in game two. They need to make sure they don’t let Abrines get off again; they can’t afford that. Gobert, in particular, needs to step up and match Adams physicality. At times he will need to be willing to leave the paint and contain Paul George and Melo Jumpers. For Westbrook let him take those jumpers, just take away the drives and hope they don’t post him on Rubio. On offense as a whole, they should be slowing their pace because that is their DNA, but they need to run at times. In smaller lineups, off turnovers and long rebounds, the Jazz need to push the pace and try to get some easy buckets because they are not explosive enough in the half court.