SALT LAKE CITY — It’s not uncommon for certain lineups to get nicknames in hockey.
The Mafia Line. The Crazy Eights. The Legion of Doom.
That’s not as common in the NBA, but the Utah Jazz’s combination of Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder and Rudy Gobert has become an exception — and, better yet, exceptional.
“The Rubio-Mitchell-Ingles-Crowder-Gobert lineup isn't a death lineup,” Jazz fan Mark Mueller wrote on Twitter. “It's THE destroyer of worlds lineup.”
Coming into Tuesday’s game against Atlanta, The Destroyer of Worlds Lineup was the most destructive lineup in the NBA — albeit against opponents, not other planets.
Since trading for Crowder, the Jazz had won 13 of 15 games and had used that dominating lineup more than all but one other combo before Tuesday’s stunning loss to Atlanta. In 119 minutes together prior to this dud of a 99-94 loss, those five combined for a 76.4 defensive rating (points per 100 possessions).
As Tom Haberstroh, formerly of ESPN and currently with Bleacher Report, put it, “That is (bleeping) sickening.”
That’s a high compliment, by the way.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder has used the lineup toward the end of multiple games to much success, including against smaller lineups. It allows Utah flexibility in switching from positions one through four. Snyder pointed out that starting power forward Derrick Favors is capable of that, but this particular pairing has been mostly spectacular in limited stretches.
“Every lineup has different strengths and weaknesses, so it’s something we’ve had some success with,” Snyder said, “but, frankly, we’ve played small at the end of the game with Joe Johnson too at various times, so we just need to keep improving, and that’s true with every lineup.”
Crowder has quickly acclimated to playing with The Stifle Tower. Teaming with the 7-foot-1 French center allows him to defend more aggressively because he’s not as worried about being burned.
“He just keeps shocking me with how he can time the help. He has a good sense of when you need the help and when to come over for a block with his timing of everything,” Crowder said.
“Playing against him, you know he’s back there but just knowing his timing is everything right now for us, and he reads the defense well, surveillances it well and communicates well to help us get up in the ball and pressure the ball, knowing we have him behind us.”
As Mueller tweeted, The Destroyer of Worlds Lineup brought an absolutely dominating net rating of 41.8 heading into the showdown with the Hawks, which is by far the best among any five-man combo in the NBA that has logged 100 or more minutes. Not only have they been terrific defensively, but they’d also compiled an offensive rating of 118.2.
The two next best lineups, from Minnesota (Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Tyus Jones, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins) and Toronto (C.J. Miles, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Fred Van Vleet and Delon Wright), were far behind in effectiveness, even though both had stellar net ratings of 23.4 and 23.33, respectively.
Go figure that the group struggled against the Hawks, who’d only won 20 games compared to the Jazz’s 40 victories before this matchup.
The Destroyer of Worlds gave up a 9-0 run when they first united in the third quarter, watching a 10-point lead get whittled down to one. That spurt allowed Atlanta to pull within striking distance until surprisingly closing out strong against the same lineup in the final four-plus minutes.
Utah trailed 84-83 when Snyder subbed Gobert in along with the other four with 4:22 left, but the Jazz’s most potent five couldn’t contain Dennis Schroder and missed multiple chances to jump ahead.
Showing that they might be world destroyers, but they aren't quite invincible.