Joe Ingles had himself an offensive night for the ages, in Utah Jazz’s Game 2 victory over the Houston Rockets.
Ingles scored 27 points, including seven made three-pointers, while taking only 13 field goal attempts. His point tally was the highest of his career, and an Australian record for points scored in an NBA playoff game. Ingles did all of this damage without taking a single free throw, making his performance a truly rare occurrence.
There are only 10 recorded games in the Basketball Reference database – across both regular season and playoff games - where a player has scored at least 27 points, while taking less than 14 field goal attempts and zero free throws. Ingles’ shooting performance ranks among the most effective ever seen in the NBA. So how did he do it? A fluorescent shooting display is the obvious answer, and such a conclusion is reinforced given a quick glance over his shot chart.
From the outset, Ingles was looking for his offence every time the Houston defence gave him an opening. Which, happened to be a regular occurrence. The Rockets defence was not at the standard displayed during the regular season. That shouldn’t take anything away from Ingles. He had to knock the shots down, which can be a significant challenge under the playoff pressure – just ask any Toronto Raptors fan. But it must be acknowledged that Ingles was the benefactor of a steady diet of clean looks.
All bar one of his field goal attempts were uncontested, per Second Spectrum data. Houston’s defence allowed airspace to a 44% three-point shooter, and they were made to pay.
This is a tremendous look for any NBA player, but for a shooter like Ingles, this is like shelling peas. Houston had a hellacious time containing the dribble penetration of Utah’s perimeter players. This routinely forced their weak side defence into chaos. Ingles received clean looks stemming from his teammates breaking through the first line of defence, drawing the extra man and pitching the ball out to the perimeter.
Sidenote: notice the screen setter on the above play? It is Dante Exum, who just had one of his best games as a professional. Exum’s defence was the bedrock of his performance, but he also found ways to contribute on the offensive end by doing a little bit of everything.
As for Ingles, he found freedom in virtually every way imaginable. The Rockets were moribund in transition and this gave Ingles the incentive he needed to let it fly. Watch here as he collects the defensive rebound, walks up the court and steps into a shot that looks like a pregame drill.
It is striking seeing any Jazz player taking shots so early in the shot clock. Under Quin Snyder, the Jazz have been one of the most methodical teams in basketball. Instant offence has long been outlawed. It’s too early in the series to know whether this is a deliberate ploy, or if Game 2 was just a night where the Rockets offered up chances that were too good to ignore. Either way, Ingles was pronounced at punishing the Rockets when given the shooting space.
For what it’s worth, I really like the idea of Utah attacking early, if given an advantageous match-up. And Ingles walking into an open trey is exactly that. The Rockets are one of the slowest paced teams in the NBA, so speeding the game up could be a favourable wrinkle for the Jazz, especially once the series shifts to the friendlier confines of Salt Lake City. It will put more pressure on the Rockets to make quicker decisions, outside the comfort of their switch heavy approach. If Game 2 is anything to go by, good things will come of it. By the fourth quarter, Utah barely had to break out of a jog to find Ingles wide open in the corner.
Houston will adjust and Ingles will almost assuredly face stricter attention in Game 3. The Rockets defence actually did a great job of containing Ingles as a ball handler. The Australian only finished with two assists and was largely kept out of the paint on his personal drives. Ingles’ lack of foot speed makes him somewhat susceptible to the Rockets switch-heavy scheme. Houston always had a body in front of him, and that nullified the shiftiness of his pet moves inside the arc. Despite the few positives the Rockets showed defensively, the power of Ingles' shooting overpowered it all.
Ingles torched the Rockets in Game 2. It was yet another reminder to the NBA world, that he cannot be left alone as a shooter.
The series shifts to Salt Lake City for Game 3 on 5 May 2018, Saturday afternoon (1230pm) AEST.