SALT LAKE CITY — Late in the second quarter of Utah’s Game 2 win over the Denver Nuggets, Jordan Clarkson dribbled Jamal Murray right into Rudy Gobert. Murray scrapped and he pulled, but he couldn't get around Gobert’s screen. With Murray blocked, Clarkson took a step back and hit an open 3-pointer.
Denver is getting acquainted with Utah’s most-used weapon: the Gobert screen. And, well, after two games they have some small complaints.
“He does a good job at setting screens,” Denver’s Monte Morris said. “I don't think all of them are legal. I mean, a ref can't call all of them.”
In Game 2, Gobert had nine screen assists, which generated 24 points according to NBA tracking stats. Now, the screen assist isn’t a perfect stat — it has to do with whether someone makes a shot, it can promote less efficient looks, etc. — but it’s one the Jazz have championed because it at least attempts to show how important Gobert is to the offense.
Donovan Mitchell is averaging 24.5 points per game as the pick-and-roll ballhandler in the first two games of the series. While Mitchell has been supernova hot — shooting 64.5% and 63% from 3 on very high usage — Gobert is to thank for some of his success.
Utah’s offense is designed around Gobert. The Jazz use his towering frame to spring ballhandlers free. This season, the Jazz led the league in drives and pick-and-rolls run. Things haven’t slowed down in the first two games of the postseason.
And that's led to some defensive headaches for the Nuggets.
“Way too many gameplan breakdowns where there’s confusion. We’re leaving guys wide open,” Denver head coach Michael Malone said. “Donovan Mitchell hit six 3s, and five of those were pull-up 3s in pick-and-rolls. So, regardless of Gobert’s screens, we have to do a better job of being into the ball, and our big guys have to do a better job of being up at the level.”
So maybe there’s some gamesmanship involved in Morris’ comments. If the refs notice some of Gobert’s movements, maybe that could stall Utah’s offense. After the Jazz had an offensive rating of 140 in Game 2, it's worth a shot. But regardless, Morris said the Nuggets have to do a better job of fighting through Gobert's screens and keeping a body on the ball.
“It's the playoffs. We know physical basketball, so he's just setting good screens — and you gotta give him credit for that,” Morris said. “He's getting his guys open and being a rim threat.”
Honestly, we know we're the better team. We've beat them on numerous occasions, so we're not trying to overreact.
–Denver's Monte Morris
That said, Morris doesn't think the Nuggets need to react too much to Game 2’s lopsided loss. Denver, after all, has won four games against the Jazz already this season.
“Honestly, we know we're the better team,” he said. “We've beat them on numerous occasions, so we're not trying to overreact.”
That might be a good thought in terms of confidence, but Malone realizes the Nuggets have to change things after what the Jazz were able to do in Game 2.
“Here's the dilemma that you're in: We're giving up 3s; we're giving up paint; we're giving up offensive rebounds,” Malone said. “At some point, we have to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘You know what? We're no longer giving up the paint, the 3 (point line), and the glass.’ We have to take two of those three away.”
That means figuring out a way to get around Gobert, but as Murray — and plenty of other Nuggets — have found out over the last two games, that’s not too easy.