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Jazz stave off pesky Bulls

Chicago didn’t make it easy, but Gobert and Bogdanovic helped Utah close out a win

NBA: Utah Jazz at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Though this game was close for basically the entire 48 minutes, it never felt like Utah had ever completely lost control. And yes, that includes the time the Bulls had an 11-point lead and a four-point halftime lead. The Jazz played well enough on the night to earn a decent win and continue their run as the hottest team in the NBA.

Rational Reaction #1: Gobert’s defense paved the way for this win

This could be said of a lot of games. Like, a lot. But it’s worth repeating again in many of those cases, just as the talking heads laud repeated scoring performances from the league’s best bucket-getters. Chicago shot just about 40 percent on attempts inside the restricted area. Zach LaVine mirrored that percentage by going 4 of 10 himself in that same area of the court.

Gobert only had two blocks, but more and more we learn how little block statistics truly matter when it comes to measuring great rim protection.

The Bulls wound up grabbing 15 offensive boards, likely thanks to Gobert focusing on those closer shots, but, again, only making 40 percent of shots, essentially at the rim, is almost never going to result in success on offense.

Rational Reaction #2: Utah needs Bogey to get out of his slump

NBA: Utah Jazz at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Partway through the fourth quarter I found myself contemplating Bojan Bogdanovic’s recent slump, dating back to the start of December. Bogdanovic’s scoring numbers for the holiday season weren’t up to par, dropping to just under 19. down from 22.4 in November

There were a few warning signs of a drought in the first half of the month — Bogdanovic shot just 37.1 percent in eight games between Dec. 1-17, but his 44.6 percent shooting on 3-pointers still brought tremendous value despite some decline in several areas.

Crossing into the back half of December, Bogey’s numbers went from slightly worrying to quite worrisome. In the six games between Dec. 19 and the new year, his 3-point shooting tanked to 28.9 percent with only a marginal jump in overall percentage to 38.6.

At the start of all this contemplation, Bojan was 3 of 9 from the field with just nine points in the early stages of the fourth quarter. A poor night for him to say the least and a continuation of the stated trend. A few minutes later, however, he was 5 of 12 and had 17 points, later finishing as Utah’s leading scorer with 19. He seemingly broke out of that slump and defied my narrative. But he kind of proved the whole point of it.

In a roughly three-minute span midway into the fourth (7:21 to 4:52 to be exact), the Jazz had seven possessions, five of which ended with a Bogdanovic shot or drawn foul. With those five scoring chances, Bogdanovic tacked on eight points to his and the team’s total. Utah went from up four points to a much more comfortable nine-point lead, allowing the team to weather Chicago’s late comeback bid.

Hopefully this past month was more of a slump than an indication of a true drop-off.

Overreaction #1: Jordan Clarkson has fixed Utah’s bench

Yea, we’re really into overreaction territory here. No the bench isn’t perfect, but it’s completely out of reason to expect much more than the Jazz got tonight out of its reserves. All four bench players who entered the game were positives in plus/minus. Georges Niang was even +19 — a team high for the night — in 17 minutes.

Utah got 36 points off the bench, distributed fairly evenly between the four players. Jordan Clarkson had 12, Georges Niang had 11, with Emmanuel Mudiay scoring seven. Tony Bradley brought up the rear in scoring with six, but stood strong for seven rebounds and two blocks in just 13 minutes. Clarkson and Niang, reached double figures in scoring before Bogdanovic (again, Utah’s leading scorer for the night) crossed that threshold.

Getting to the point, it seems that Clarkson is integrating very well. After scoring nine points in a thrown-into-the-fire debut, the former Cavalier has averaged 17.0 points per game in three outings. That scoring has come via highly effective shooting splits of .500/.444/.750.

The impact of such efficient scoring is not one to be underestimated. Playing alongside great scoring is a great way to free up other players on the court. We’ve seen that with Joe Ingles playing more with the starters and benefiting greatly from it himself. So guys like Niang, Bradley and even Mudiay can and likely are gaining from Clarkson’s play as well.

Case in point, in the last three games, Utah’s bench scoring ranks 19th in the league at 35.7 points per game. That may seem slightly underwhelming, but the Jazz were also 29th prior to trading for Clarkson. Also consider that even in the last three game span, Utah is 29th in average bench minutes.

Overreaction #2: Utah is ready for a push to the top of the standings

The Jazz are two games out of second place in the West. That right there should be enough to make this case. But there’s also the fact that Utah is the hottest team in the league. Utah is 9-1 over it’s last 10 games, better than any other team at the moment. The Jazz are also on a four-game win streak; only Milwaukee, OKC and also somehow New Orleans are on a streak as long (all are four-game streaks).

With the wind already in their sails, now is the time for the Jazz to capitalize on what is categorically the easiest January schedule in the NBA (at least heading into the month), if Utah isn’t in at least the top four by February, there will need to be a lot of questions asked of the team and organization.

As it is, prepare for the best stretch of Utah’s season.

Underreaction: No need to panic much over this close win

Sure, the Bulls are now nine games below .500 and in the East, and Utah was down four points to that team at halftime, and were outscored in the fourth quarter by them. But seriously, no need to get worried as many have been over unnecessarily close wins.

You can count on your fingers and thumbs how many times Chicago has lost by double-digits. Four of those losses were to the likes of Toronto, Milwaukee and Houston. And keep in mind this team had one game within one point of the Raptors, within six of the Lakers and actually beat the Clippers by three.

Overall, nothing about Utah’s performance overall displayed lack of quality play, except for the 17 turnovers. The Jazz shot well, defended well and closed well against a team that keeps games close (but ultimately does tend to lose those games).