Associated Press

Jonas Jerebko? Yes, Jonas Jerebko with game-winner for Warriors

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Jonas Jerebko was a quality under-the-radar pickup for Golden State last summer, a solid veteran power forward who can space the floor and hit threes.

Obviously, the Warriors got him to be their go-to player in the clutch.

Or, at least, that’s what happened in Utah on Friday night.

Jerebko inbounded the ball then rolled to the rim. Rudy Gobert put a body on him, but as Kevin Durant went up for his game-winner attempt, Gobert took a step toward him and that gave Jerebko the space to get inside Gobert. From there it was just a tip in.

This was a wildly entertaining game, where Kevin Durant dropped 38, Stephen Curry had 31, and for Utah Joe Ingles put on a show on his way to 27. Check out the finish of this game, it was amazingly fun basketball with a lot of emotion for the second game of the season.

Utah’s Joe Ingles: ‘I’m the best shooter in the league’

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Last season, Jazz sharpshooter Joe Ingles shot 44 percent from three overall (and took 64 percent of his shots from there), 52.6 percent on corner threes, and he shot 47.5 percent on wide open threes, which were a majority of his looks from deep because of the excellent ball movement of the Jazz.

He is one of the game’s best three-point shooters, and he has the swagger of the greats. How much swagger? Check out what he had to say when a reporter asked him if he lost confidence after missing his first few in an exhibition against the Raptors, via Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News.

“No. I’m the best shooter in the league,” the newly turned 31-year-old Ingles shot back. “That’s a silly question.”

Ingles likes to joke around in press scrums, it that what was happening here, or does he believe he’s the best?

“Oh, I am. Yeah, why wouldn’t I?” Ingles responded… “The numbers I’ve shot, the percentages, they obviously are what they are and people are going to dissect everything but, I honestly feel like they’re all going to go in when I shoot the ball.”

What do you expect him to say? Ingles is a top-10 shooter in the league and of course he believes he’s the best and can knock down any shot. You don’t get to be that good without the swagger. Stephen Curry, J.J. Redick and on down the list all think the same thing. 

Ingles is one of the keys if the Jazz are going to take a step forward this season — he has to improve from his career-best season last year. No easy task. However, him scoring 24 against the Raptors a few days ago is a good start.

 

 

 

How far can contrarian, big, defensive Jazz go in the West this season?

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This is the latest of NBC’s NBA season preview stories, and we will post at least one a day on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, with today the Jazz as the focus

We know the NBA buzzwords, the trends. Small ball. Offense over defense. Play fast. Teams have to have men who can spread the floor with their three-point shooting. Teams want undersized power forwards who play more like wings. The offense is to run a pick-and-roll to force a switch, then isolate and let your best shot creator attack the mismatch.

The Utah Jazz are none of that.

They are contrarian, a throwback. And they are one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.

Utah is defensive team that starts a twin towers front line where neither can really step out and space the floor with their jumper. Utah’s starting power forward, Derrick Favors, is a power forward in the classic sense. They run a motion offense, and only 5.3 percent of their offensive attempts came out of isolation last season. They don’t play at a high pace, they prefer a game that grinds down, physically but also mentally.

They are not following the small ball trend, and that’s a conscious decision.

“Golden State has driven a perception that the whole league is small…” Jazz coach Quin Snyder told NBC Sports last season. “Because Golden State’s been the best team, you’re forced to match up with them, and then people will try to play small, but if you’re playing small just because someone else is, and then you’re not playing your best players, that’s a tough question. Do you chase a mismatch or do you play the way you play?”

Utah plays the way it plays. And with that, most pundits have them as a top-four team in the West (Vegas books have them with the fourth highest under/over win total in the West at 48.5), and some around the league wonder if the Jazz can beat a diminished Rockets’ squad this season.

However, does their style also have a ceiling? Utah’s defense stymied Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs last season, but the spacing and pace of the Houston Rockets proved to be too much — it was hard to keep Rudy Gobert on the court against those smaller lineups, and Houston’s switching defense stalled out the Utah offense.

If the question is “can we beat Golden State and Houston the way we play?” then 12 teams in the West — and 28 teams across the entire NBA — are asking that same question. Utah believes it can, or it can at least threaten them, by just doing what they do better.

If the Jazz are going to live up to a top-four slot, a few things have to happen, and it starts with Rudy Gobert staying healthy. He missed most of the first half of last season with knee injuries — not chronic things, but both times because a player fell into him — but once he was back and right Utah went 29-6 to close out the season. He won Defensive Player of the Year because of how dominant he was during that run.

Obviously, the reason for the hot finish was Utah’s incredible defense: After the All-Star break it allowed just 96 points per 100 possessions, by far the best in the league. That defense could get better this season: a healthy Gobert all season, plus full seasons out of Jae Crowder and Royce O’Neale, plus players with another season in the system.

The surprise for the Jazz last season was a respectable offense (16th in the league), which came about because rookie Donovan Mitchell played like an All-Star, 20.5 points and 3.7 assists per game. Mitchell impressed everyone, but sometimes players with strong rookie campaigns plateau their second season, not growing and making the next leap some expect. Utah, to take a step forward, needs him to grow.

Around him there are solid veterans who knew how to play the game — Gobert running the rim, Joe Ingles spotting up at the arc and moving the ball to the right man on closeouts, Ricky Rubio figuring out how to adjust to the motion offense then thriving in it as a distributor (after the All-Star break he averaged 15 points a game, shot 40.9 percent from three, and had 5.6 assists a night), and Derrick Favors getting his buckets.

Utah didn’t make big moves this summer but believes it has added some firepower. They re-signed Dante Exum over the summer and believe (more than anyone else) he is healthy and ready for a breakout year. They drafted Grayson Allen, who showed at Summer League he’s more than a spot-up guy. They get a full season of the solid Jae Crowder.

Utah is counting on continuity.

That and defense will alone not be enough. The Jazz need health, and they need the offense to get better — a few more easy buckets in transition would help. The Jazz were 19th in the NBA in percentage of offense that started in transition (stat via Cleaning The Glass) and while that’s not bad for a team that wants a defensive game, a few more easy transition buckets a night help.

The Jazz also need to better handle switching defenses — the elite teams they want to challenge in the West switch a lot, and to beat them in a seven-game series Utah has to score more comfortably against the switch. That doesn’t necessarily mean a James Harden back-it-out-and-isolate play, but to do it in the context of the motion offense requires precision and ability to exploit the smallest mistake the Jazz did not have last season.

The Jazz are going to be the Jazz this season — contrarian, grinding, and a nightly defensive force. That can take them a long way, especially in the regular season.
If it can get them where they want to go in the playoffs is a much tougher question.

Rockets dominate Jazz, take Game 4 and 3-1 series lead, 100-87

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Chris Paul had 27 points and 12 rebounds while James Harden scored 24 points to power the Houston Rockets to a 100-87 win over the Utah Jazz on Sunday night, taking a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series.

Paul, playing the sidekick to Harden for most of his first season in Houston, took center stage, controlling the tempo and getting to his favorite spots as the Rockets led from start to finish.

Donovan Mitchell scored 25 before fouling out and Joe Ingles had 15 for the Jazz.

Mitchell started finding lanes to the basket late and got the Jazz within 85-80 after he fueled a 10-2 run. But Paul, who matched his scoring high for this playoff run, hit a pull-up jumper and found Trevor Ariza for a 3-pointer to put the Rockets back up by double digits and they never looked back.

Houston, which has been known for their offensive firepower, put forth a disruptive defensive effort.

Clint Capela, the anchor of the Houston defense, had 12 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks, one of which featured a Dikembe Mutombo-like finger wag in the fourth quarter.

The Rockets went up by 15 in the second quarter before the Jazz closed to 51-46 on back-to-back three-point plays by Mitchell. Utah trailed 58-48 at the half.

Neither team was accurate from beyond the arc as the Jazz were 7-for-29 and Houston went 10-for-38.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Harden’s 14 first-quarter points were the most for him in the opening period this postseason. … Flying to close out on an Ingles’ 3-pointer in the second quarter, P.J. Tucker raked the Jazz sharpshooter across the face and earned a Flagrant 1. … Capela and Mitchell got double technical fighting for rebound in the fourth quarter and Houston coach Mike D’Antoni got another for his reaction to the play.

Jazz: Ricky Rubio missed his fourth straight game due to a left hamstring strain suffered in opening round but is close to returning. … Gobert, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds, blocked two shots in the opening moments but the Rockets burst to another big lead, 11-3, just as they did Game 1 and 3. … Royce O'Neale left the game with 9:09 left in the first quarter with an apparent knee injury but returned at the end of the period.

UP NEXT

The series shifts back to Houston for Game 5.

Donovan Mitchell’s putback dunk, passing sparks Jazz to Game 2 win over Rockets

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Donovan Mitchell missed.

Then, he made everyone take notice.

The Jazz rookie clanked a runner midway through the fourth quarter but followed his own miss with a putback dunk that sent shockwaves through Houston.

Even on a poor shooting night, Mitchell helped even Utah’s second-round series with the Rockets, 1-1. He dished a personal-best 11 assists in the Jazz’s 116-108 Game 2 win Wednesday.

When teams split the first two games of a best-of-seven series in one location, the team with home-court advantage has still won 61% of the series. The Rockets were better than the Jazz throughout the season, and one game doesn’t erase that.

But with Game 3 Friday in Utah, Houston must adjust to a rookie whose game looks progressively more well-rounded.

An inefficient gunner early in the season, Mitchell developed into a historically efficient rookie scorer. He even became the rare rookie offensive focal point to lead his team to the playoffs.

With starting point guard Ricky Rubio out injured, Mitchell showed his playmaking chops tonight. Though Mitchell shot just 6-for-21, including 2-for-8 on 3-pointers, he expertly read the Rockets’ defense and spread the ball all over the court.

It also helped his teammates knocked down the shots he helped generate. Led by Joe Ingles (27 points on 7-of-9 3-point shooting), Mitchell’s teammates shot 62% on 2-pointers and 54% on 3-pointers.

So much flowed through Mitchell, though. There’s a reason he was a game-high +13.

James Harden carried an even larger load for Houston with 32 points and 11 assists – many to Clint Capela (21 points and 11 rebounds). But the Rockets shot a dreadful 27% on 3-pointers, including 2-of-10 by Harden. Rudy Gobert played his usual stout defense inside (eventually).

Houston is capable of hitting a high offensive level more regularly. Only Utah did it tonight.

Falling behind by 19 in the first half didn’t help the Rockets. Amid too much defensive miscommunication and offensive laziness, they dug themselves a hole – then climbed out of it. Houston led with eight minutes left.

But the Jazz found a formula that worked tonight. Counting only points scored or assisted by Mitchell, Utah outscored the Rockets down the stretch.

The game featured testiness between P.J. Tucker and Mitchell, Gobert and Harden, Jae Crowder and Harden. This series is turning out to be more competitive than it appeared it’d be after Game 1.

Because Mitchell keeps rising to the escalating challenge facing him.