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How the Jazz Shut Down Kristaps Porzingis

Russ Isabella/USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday night, the Utah Jazz were nothing short of dominant in their 106-85 victory over the New York Knicks. As win probability graphs from Inpredictable show, Utah had virtually locked the game up before halftime, getting out to gigantic early leads like 38-11 and 49-18.

The game was also easily the worst professional performance from the otherwise phenomenal Kristaps Porzingis, who’s thus far seemed very capable of holding his franchise’s future success on his shoulders. It was the only one of his 23 games in which he posted a negative Game Score, and he posted a -26 plus/minus in 13 short but disastrous minutes — he didn’t play in the last quarter-and-a-half of the game in order to rest.

So what did the Jazz do to limit a 14 PPG scorer to four points on just two-of-eight shooting? Porzingis is such a devastating encapsulation of the modern NBA because he has tremendous size (7’3″!) without sacrificing any perimeter mobility. Even on a night when regular starting center Rudy Gobert was out due to injury, though, the Jazz showcased the fantastic versatility of their personnel: although the Jazz have a reputation for having one of the most post-centric frontcourts in the league, they’re also totally capable of locking down a stretch big like Porzingis.

In Gobert’s absence, rookie Trey Lyles received the start and had Porzingis as his defensive assignment. While Lyles’s offensive struggles (37 percent from the field) have torpedoed his overall statistics, it’s also clear to see that Lyles is a cerebral player who combines size, mobility and intelligence.

Here’s a great example from the first quarter. Lyles moved off Porzingis to contain the guard (Arron Afflalo), and then had the foot-speed to catch back up to Porzingis and shut off the baseline drive:

While both Lyles and backup Jeff Withey had moments of outstanding individual defense on Porzingis, both Utah players could defend with confidence because they had such strong help constantly coming from behind them. For instance, in this third-quarter play, the Knicks ran the exact same set as in the video above. Only, this time, Lyles didn’t totally shut off the baseline:

But Derrick Favors quickly slid over, cutting off Porzingis’s path to the rim, and both Jazz players forced a low-percentage miss.

This next play was a great example of the entire Utah team playing defense on a string. Porzingis ran a high pick-and-roll with Jose Calderon, and Lyles decided to blitz the guard:

Lyles’s teammates Rodney Hood and Favors both immediately slid in to help, forcing Porzingis to pass the ball off, followed by a tough shot missed by Robin Lopez — with Lyles recovering to collect the rebound.

The Jazz also didn’t make life easy for Porzingis on the defensive end, either. The Utah guards were very conscious of when the Knicks would switch on pick-and-rolls, and took advantage of their opportunities to attack Porzingis in isolation. Here’s Trey Burke putting the big man on skates:

And here’s Gordon Hayward doing the exact same thing:

It was a dominant team effort by the Jazz, who showed an incredible flash of the stifling potential their lineup brings.

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