1. Jazz offense tears apart Nuggets defense again
After a 139 offensive rating in Game 2, the Jazz “only” put up a 135 points per 100 possessions in Game 3. What a disappointment.
But seriously, this Nuggets defense looks sunk. They look like they have no idea what they’re doing to defend the Jazz, just cycling through defensive strategies while being terrible at all of them.
Some of that is obviously because the Jazz are passing the ball around whatever they do: the Jazz have created a seasons-long identity as a ball movement team, and it’s abundantly clear that they’re able to read defenses and tear them apart.
“No matter what defense they throw at us, they know and we know how to beat that defense. Then (we) try to make the right decision,” Gobert said.
They’re especially able to do this against teams with limited quickness and athleticism on the perimeter. The healthy Nuggets are not that, but while they’re starting Michael Porter Jr. and Paul Millsap, they’re very easily exploitable. Gobert’s frequently the primary beneficiary of poor perimeter defense.
Like, here, the Jazz are actually in a little bit of trouble, with Conley driving baseline and everything contained. But because Millsap is so unable to change directions on the closeout, even slow man Joe Ingles can drive by him easily. The result? A Gobert dunk.
Ditto here with Porter. Again, Royce O’Neale shouldn’t be a problematic defensive matchup, but he just drives by Porter with ease. I get that it’s a closeout, but the the Nuggets’ closeouts aren’t impacting the shot or stopping the drive. Millsap has to rotate over, and it’s another Gobert dunk.
Jordan Clarkson drives by Monte Morris. To Morris’ credit, it’s mostly contained, but Porter comes over to help anyway. Nikola Jokic has to defend both Donovan Mitchell and Gobert. He cannot. Gobert dunk.
The Nuggets have just lost all sense of perimeter contain, and that’s leading to scrambling, ugly, nonsensical help situations. With a screen, or without, the Jazz are getting downhill in a hurry, and that’s leading to messy defensive situations time and time again.
2. Nuggets turnovers were astounding
Sorry to focus so much on the opposing team’s flaws rather than the Jazz’s successes, but the truth is that when a team loses a playoff game by 30+ points, some failure from one side is going to be involved. And time and time again on Friday night, the Nuggets turned the ball over in ways I frankly don’t understand.
This possession begins with a standard post pass that Jokic somehow fumbles so badly he almost loses it out of bounds, eventually just chucking it behind him. Mitchell goes for the steal, but doesn’t get it. It’s a 5-on-4 from here on out. So Torrey Craig… chucks it right to Ingles?
Jokic, one of the top five passers in the NBA, just throws a pick six to Mitchell on this play.
Porter sees his teammate coming to get the ball and for some reason chucks it hard above his head from like six feet away.
There are more examples. Even one of the lowest turnover guards of all time, Monte Morris, had two tonight. It’s just weird for a No. 3 seed.
I think when the Jazz stay home on the Nuggets cuts, forcing them to play a two man game, they’re not able to make plays that they’re used to making. Some of these turnovers are passes that the Nuggets are used to having open, but aren’t finding this series because the Jazz can defend the paint through Gobert alone.
To some extent, they just need their stars to play better. Both Murray and Jokic were very very average on Friday. When they’re average and the Jazz are defending the role players well, the Nuggets are in big trouble.
3. Mike Conley’s return
I think after such a conclusive Game 2 win, people were worried that Conley’s return might throw a wrench into things. The Jazz would lose a little size in the starting lineup, and the ball might be in Mitchell’s hands a little less.
Then Conley came back, and the reality was just phenomenal: all of a sudden, the Jazz had another big-time shot maker in the lineup, one who could also create. The result: 27 points on 9-13 shooting from the field and 7-8 from 3-point distance, adding four assists with no turnovers.
It’s impressive that Conley came in to the bubble after a few days away from game action and was immediately ready to shoot, bringing significant doubt to the adage of needing to get into game rhythm. Will he shoot 7-8 from deep again? Probably not. But that’s okay, because the threat of his shot opens up much for the rest of the offense.
Conley’s return also means Emmanuel Mudiay was pushed out of the rotation, which is a good thing. The Jazz extended their lead in those bench units with Conley at the helm. It’s a good fit for him, because he gets to run the show against bench lineups, looking to score and pass to shooters around him like Clarkson, Niang, and Morgan.
The Jazz’s depth is a real problem, but adding another player capable of playing 35 per night makes things a whole lot easier.
And of course, his Jazz teammates love Conley. Gobert, Mitchell, and even Ingles spoke about Conley’s leadership on the floor, his ability to see things in real time and pass them on to his teammates. It’s hard to give him too much credit for the offense in Game 3, given how good it was in Game 2, but his ethos contributes to the team’s, and it’s good to have it back.