|Paul Millsap, PF 39 MIN | 11-21 FG | 5-6 FT | 8 REB | 3 AST | 27 PTS | -9
WARRIOR. Millsap was by far the best Jazz player on the court tonight. Unfortunately, his efforts could not overcome Eric Gordon’s white-hot shooting spree in the fourth quarter. Still, the way he played through his injury tonight was the stuff of legends.
|DeMarre Carroll, F 15 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -7
Carroll’s energy is problematic for opponents’ offenses and contagious for the Jazz. For every single one of his minutes, Carroll was all-out, pedal-to-the-metal basketball chaos.
|Al Jefferson, C 34 MIN | 8-13 FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 19 PTS | -15
No complaints about Al’s offense, but terrible rebounding and nonexistent defense was catastrophic for the Jazz.
|Devin Harris, PG 31 MIN | 1-6 FG | 1-1 FT | 1 REB | 8 AST | 3 PTS | -11
Harris shot terribly, single-handedly ruined a number of fastbreaks, and his defense could be called “inconsistent” at best. That said, he was the only Jazz player who was consistently penetrating, and his assists were vital on a night of offensive ineptitude.
|Gordon Hayward, SG 41 MIN | 3-9 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 8 PTS | -13
A game ago, Gordon Hayward looked like a future All-Star and the face of our franchise. While this performance shouldn’t take away from that one, the Jazz desperately needed him tonight, and he was nowhere to be found.
|Derrick Favors, FC 24 MIN | 4-8 FG | 4-4 FT | 13 REB | 0 AST | 12 PTS | -1
Derrick Favors was everything anyone could have asked from him. About a month ago, Derrick Favors decided that if he exerted himself on the boards, he had all the tools to dominate the glass. He has done so ever since.
|Alec Burks, G 21 MIN | 3-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 9 PTS | +1
Alec Burks’ almost putback was breathtaking and would have been the highlight of his rookie year. Unfortunately, tonight was a night of “almosts.”
Archives For Evan Hall
Typically, when a team misses the playoffs, it’s for one of two rather obvious reasons. 1. A talented roster that is incapable of meshing the considerable talents of each individual into a concerted team effort. 2. A roster that simply lacks the talent to string together wins on the road. This year’s Kings and last year’s Warriors are examples of reason 1, and this year’s Nets, Bobcats, and Wizards are prototypical of reason 2. For the majority of this season, I have worried that this Jazz team is simply falling victim to reason 2: the team, united though it may be, does not have enough talent to steal enough road games to reach and maintain a very available 8th playoff spot.
For the most part, this has been my narrative for 2012, but in recent weeks, the Jazz are losing winnable games at home (last week against the Kings and last night against the Suns) and forcing me to re-evaluate. Now, I don’t believe there is a single person remotely educated in NBA terms that would place this Jazz teams in the ring of basketball hell to which the Nets, Bobcats and Wizards are consigned. This leaves only one possible solution: the Jazz are underachieving.
This is absolutely not to say to that the team is not trying. Quite the contrary: almost every player on this roster kills himself every night, most especially during this losing streak in which the team is mired. These players care a ton, and one trip to a post-loss locker room removes any doubt that they don’t want to win. Yet they continue losing. This is not due to a dearth of legitimate talent. Teams all over the NBA would love to have Hayward, Millsap, Jefferson, Favors, Burks and Harris on their roster. This team, when broken down into the individuals, is good. Really good. Unfortunately, the pieces are not complementary.
Take for instance, the example of C.J. Miles. What do the Jazz need from C.J.’s position? A high percentage three point shooter with judicious shot selection, perimeter defense, and solid movement without the ball. But who is C.J.? A long, athletic, high volume shooter who loves long 2s and has a disappointingly low percentage from three. Where would C.J. thrive? An undersized team that thrived on isolation plays for the wings and that pushed the pace for 48 minutes of every game. A team like Oklahoma City. Unfortunately (particularly for C.J.), C.J. is on the Jazz, where he has been pigeonholed into a role he is ill-equipped to perform.
I am not blaming everything or even much of anything on C.J. He is merely an example that points to a larger trend. The Jazz roster is loaded with players who have been compelled to play in roles with which they are uncomfortable or ill-suited. At least offensively, Millsap is far more effective at the 3 (see: Blazers game). Jefferson, whose greatest ability is scoring on slow, methodical, low-post isos, plays on a team whose system thrives on quick passes and heavy off-the-ball movement. Jefferson’s very style disrupts the flow of an offense structured on flow. Again, this is not Jefferson’s fault. In fact, of all of these square-in-a-round-hole players, Jefferson has been the best at adapting his game to the situation. He has become a much more adept passer out of the post and he has developed a sense for pulling double-teams with his positioning so as to open up his teammates. But again, this is not his strength, and this certainly doesn’t maximize his considerable talents. It’s only the role the team asks him to play.
Sadly, this is par for the course in the NBA. Very rarely do teams find a set of players who complement each other beautifully. The thing about chemistry is that you don’t know you have it until your team is out there on the floor. Last night at the game, Spencer (known around here as “The Boss”) and Gordon Chiesa were discussing how well Andrei Kirilenko would have played on D’Antoni’s SSOL Suns. Unfortunately, because of an albatross contract, AK’s transcendent but specific skill set were forced into a Jazz system that could not maximize it. Because of the nature of the Association, this sort of thing is inevitable. There’s no omnipotent God of basketball who governs to which teams each player/coach must go to reach their potential (otherwise, Jimmer would be on the Magic, C.J. would be the leading scorer for the Bobcats, and Steve Nash would most definitely not be wasting away on a mediocre Suns team). Good teams make the best with what personnel they have, and that’s what those D-Will, Memo, and Boozer teams did with AK.
The good news is that this current Jazz team is possibly more talented than those D-Will teams. The roster is young, and youth improves with time. That alone should raise the ceiling of the team. The ideal line-up of the future for positions 2 through 5 is Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter (or potentially Millsap instead of Burks with Hayward at the two), and that line-up does look, at least on paper, like a talented, complementary collection of pieces. This would be especially true if Burks could improve his 3 point shooting. The bad news is that right now, this group is too young, too inexperienced, and too raw to make a legitimate run toward the playoffs without the help of the veterans. As much talent as this team has, the Jazz have yet to access and maximize all of that talent, and until that occurs, this team’s ceiling is a first round playoff exit.
|Paul Millsap, PF 34 MIN | 14-20 FG | 3-3 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 31 PTS | +13
Paul Millsap was the best player on the floor tonight: 70% shooting and two crucial dunks down the stretch (both of which showed off Millsap’s apt sense for off-the-ball movement). Ty Corbin’s decision to play Paul at the three and go big was nothing short of unadulterated basketball genius. Millsap abused Matthews and Batum all night long.
|Al Jefferson, C 39 MIN | 6-17 FG | 1-1 FT | 10 REB | 3 AST | 13 PTS | +5
Bad shooting aside, it was refreshing to see Big Al understand his role late in the game. He hit one big shot and then allowed his more open hotter teammates to do the rest.
|Devin Harris, PG 14 MIN | 3-7 FG | 3-3 FT | 0 REB | 4 AST | 9 PTS | -6
The Jazz desperately need a healthy Harris to make this playoff run, so Harris’s sprained ankle is by far the most notable thing about his night.
|Gordon Hayward, SG 40 MIN | 6-12 FG | 5-6 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 20 PTS | +5
Tonight’s Hayward was more Butler-Hayward than Kirilenko-Hayward. No assists and only two rebounds, but very timely and effective scoring. The Jazz needed a second scoring option with Harris injured, C.J. Miles MIA, and Al Jefferson shooting miserably, and Hayward was that option.
|Jamaal Tinsley, PG 18 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 6 AST | 3 PTS | +15
In a season that has had Jazz fans clamoring for more playing time for the younger players, Tinsley has shown the value of veteran presence on the floor. He makes smart plays (like pressuring Felton to get that game-winning steal), doesn’t get rattled in the clutch, and always plays calmly. Also, his sharpshooting from three has been a refreshing luxury.
|Earl Watson, PG 17 MIN | 0-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 0 PTS | -4
Just a dreadful night for Earl Watson. Since his return from injury, he has looked mentally affected by Tinsley’s great play. If Harris’s is out for any significant number of games, sheer duty and necessity should rejuvenate Earl.
|DeMarre Carroll, F 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | 0
At the rate he was stealing the ball, DeMarre Carroll could have finished this game with 24 steals. 24 steals! Get this man some Cafe Rio!
|Derrick Favors, FC 35 MIN | 5-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 11 REB | 2 AST | 11 PTS | +6
I truly loved Derrick Favors fourth-quarter dunk, but my favorite Favors play from this game was his ferocious rebound and putback off of Burks’ missed free throw. Still, both of those plays essentially told us the same thing: Derrick Favors is going to be really good.
|Alec Burks, G 21 MIN | 2-8 FG | 2-5 FT | 2 REB | 5 AST | 6 PTS | +3
Dreadful shooting night for Burks (even from the free throw line), but his assist to a cutting Millsap was a great decision, a pinpoint pass, and the greatest Jazz moment of the last week.
|Paul Millsap, PF 33 MIN | 10-14 FG | 3-3 FT | 13 REB | 3 AST | 24 PTS | +27
Millsap put on a clinic for off-ball movement tonight. He was finding lanes and was an easy target for Harris all night long. Millsap is an expert at finding points within the offense, which is the primary reason he could shoot 10-14 tonight.
|C.J. Miles, SF 21 MIN | 3-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 10 PTS | +18
In just 21 minutes, C.J. was efficient and selective with his shots. Only seven shots in 21 minutes may represent a shift to a more cerebral style of play for C.J.
|Al Jefferson, C 32 MIN | 9-14 FG | 1-2 FT | 8 REB | 3 AST | 19 PTS | +25
Quiet night for Jefferson, but that’s usually a good thing for the Jazz. Tonight was a perfect example of Jefferson understanding his role. He limited his jump shots, he kept the ball moving, made his moves quickly, and passed out of double teams.
|Devin Harris, PG 30 MIN | 3-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 11 AST | 9 PTS | +33
Harris channeled his inner-Stockton in honor of the Hall of Famer’s 50th birthday: double digit assists in only 30 minutes and a great defensive performance on Deron Williams. Harris forced D-Will to become a perimeter shooter and thereby negated Williams’ size and strength advantage.
|Gordon Hayward, SG 24 MIN | 3-8 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 7 PTS | +1
Hayward didn’t shoot particularly well (ice-cold from three), and his normal energy wasn’t there. This is to be expected a night after playing a team-high 57 minutes in Atlanta.
|Earl Watson, PG 18 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 2 PTS | -12
Earl Watson looked rusty and out of sorts all game long. In fact, almost immediately after Harris came back in for Watson early in the fourth quarter, the Jazz stopped New Jersey’s run and extended the lead back out to ten. If nothing else, Corbin has to be considering giving more minutes to Tinsley.
|DeMarre Carroll, F 19 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 7 PTS | +7
For a stretch in the second quarter, DeMarre Carroll looked like the only player on the floor who cared. He grabbed 5 boards on pure energy and even showed off a nice shooting stroke from the outside.
|Jeremy Evans, SF 3 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | +1
It was long after the game had been decided, but Evans’ one-handed flush off of Earl Watson’s dunk was one of the only breathtaking plays of the game.
|Derrick Favors, FC 18 MIN | 2-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 4 PTS | -8
It’s become increasingly clear that Favors is meant for a larger portion of minutes. Favors needs time to get involved in the offense and assert himself on the boards, but on a night where Millsap was playing that well, it’s hard to fault Corbin for riding Millsap. That said, how about Favors’ putback dunk in traffic?
|Alec Burks, G 31 MIN | 5-11 FG | 5-5 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 15 PTS | +13
Alec Burks makes buckets that maybe 10 other players in the NBA could make. Tonight, Burks had at least two of those plays, as well as some solid rebounding from the wing. He also definitively outplayed one of his rookie shooting guard counterparts in MarShon Brooks.
|Paul Millsap, PF 32 MIN | 10-16 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 20 PTS | +6
Not only was Millsap clutch down the stretch and coolly efficient throughout the game, his defense on Durant in the third quarter was truly impressive. Matching up with Durant at the four is no easy task, and Millsap took it head on.
|C.J. Miles, SF 28 MIN | 4-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 10 PTS | +12
Not a great shooting night from the outside, but C.J. attacked the rim and provided some great wing rebounding in Josh Howard’s absence.
|Al Jefferson, C 30 MIN | 6-15 FG | 4-4 FT | 6 REB | 4 AST | 16 PTS | +6
The lows were a few shot-clock absorbing possessions that ended with bricks and the highs were the 4 assists.
|Devin Harris, PG 30 MIN | 6-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 15 PTS | +11
Harris was scorching hot from three in the third quarter and very effective from the field throughout the game.
|Gordon Hayward, SG 32 MIN | 3-10 FG | 4-4 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 11 PTS | +4
Hayward was all effort on a night when his shot wasn’t falling. His high-flying board-crashing, his free-throw shooting (which has been the best on the team during this winning streak), and his brilliant passing in the fourth quarter were all noteworthy. But HIS DEFENSE! Durant was 6-22 from the field, and 0-7 in the fourth quarter, and much of that was Hayward’s perimeter D.
|Jamaal Tinsley, PG 18 MIN | 5-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 11 PTS | -4
Tinsley’s street-ball schooling of Nazr Mohammed was a thing of beauty. Easily the best play of the night. Additionally, the way he runs the offense with the youngsters on the second unit is a joy to watch.
|DeMarre Carroll, F 12 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -1
Just that he played enough to get on the grades is admirable enough. For once, we could enjoy DeMarre Carroll as a basketball player and not just a tweeter.
|Derrick Favors, FC 22 MIN | 1-2 FG | 5-8 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 7 PTS | +2
Favors showed all last week what he can do with significant minutes, and tonight he translated that effort even without that playing time. His rebounding and post defense are particularly notable because they are indicative of Favors’ effort.
|Alec Burks, G 25 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 2 PTS | -1
Easily Burks’ worst game since his recent resurgence into the rotation, but he played solid defense and his shots weren’t poorly selected, just off.
|Enes Kanter, F 12 MIN | 1-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 3 PTS | 0
A classic early-season game from Kanter: good rebounding, one field goal attempt, 15 heavy, laborious jogs up and down the court. What’s not to like?
Four Things We Saw
- MVP: The entire Jazz roster gets to share MVP honors tonight. Six players scored in double figures, including the resurrected Jamaal Tinsley, who scored 11 points (nine in the first quarter).
- Defining Moment: With 8:55 left in the fourth quarter and then Jazz hanging on a six point lead, Jamaal Tinsely dusted off his patented nutmeg dribble on Nazr Mohammed and finished the play with a soft floater. It was a confident move and seemed to inspire the Jazz down the stretch as the Thunder hit big shot after big shot.
- Defining Moment: DeMarre Carroll got his first meaningful minutes as a Jazz player and drew the un-enviable task of guarding Kevin Durant. After scoring 23 of the Thunder’s 25 points in the first quarter, the Jazz held the duo scoreless through the rest of the first half.
- That was… A playoff preview. This might have been a matchup of the 1-8 seeds in the first round. The crowd was electric and the Jazz played with contagious ferocity, matching the cold-blooded three-point shooting by the Thunder.
|Josh Howard, SF 25 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 9 PTS | -1Josh Howard barely avoids a “C” because of his effective shooting (50% from the field), but this was not a good game for him. He had a few ugly turnovers, and his defense was suspect at its best and nonexistent at its worst.|
|Paul Millsap, PF 34 MIN | 4-11 FG | 4-6 FT | 10 REB | 5 AST | 12 PTS | +22Paul Millsap’s scoring binge in the first third of the season may have raised expectations for his offensive game, but Millsap can still assert himself on the floor even when he’s not shooting well. His 5 steals were a season high, and his +19 was the best +/- number from both teams.|
|Al Jefferson, C 36 MIN | 14-18 FG | 4-4 FT | 12 REB | 1 AST | 33 PTS | +15This one was for his grandma, and Big Al made it count. He was a white-hot 14-18 from the floor, including a beautiful 18-footer that he bounced high off the glass. Big Al was methodical, smart, and efficient. Even his defense was on point: he helped hold Greg Monroe, a virtual lock for a double-double, to 14 points and 5 boards.|
|Raja Bell, SG 27 MIN | 0-2 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 PTS | +16After a loud weekend from Raja, he produced a very quiet box score. He received big minutes, but he failed to do anything remarkable with them. He didn’t really hurt the team, but he didn’t help either.|
|Devin Harris, PG 30 MIN | 4-10 FG | 9-10 FT | 3 REB | 8 AST | 19 PTS | +14The Devin Harris tear continues. Tonight, Harris was especially effective in drawing fouls. He attacked the rim whenever he had a lane, which helped him produce offensively on a mediocre shooting night. His bail-out threes were also spark plugs for the Jazz during some dead offensive stretches.|
|Earl Watson, PG 18 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 0 PTS | +1This was a typical game for Earl Watson: scrappy defense, good control of the offense, and zero offensive production. With veterans like Watson, you know what you’re going to get night in and night out, but it would still be refreshing to see Watson punish defenses for lagging way off of him.|
|C.J. Miles, SF 23 MIN | 5-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 15 PTS | +16This is everything C.J. Miles should be. 15 points in only 23 minutes on very efficient shooting. The difference between Good C.J. and Bad C.J. isn’t complicated: Good C.J. only shoots threes when he’s set, on spot-ups and kick-outs; otherwise he’s driving, dishing, and generally functioning within the flow of the offense. Tonight we saw Good C.J.|
|Gordon Hayward, SG 21 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 8 PTS | -1Gordon Hayward didn’t really assert himself on offense tonight, but this might have been harder with fewer minutes than he’s used to. His defense, though, was outstanding. When he guarded Stuckey, who was on fire tonight, Hayward completely shut him down.|
|Derrick Favors, FC 16 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-2 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | -4In limited minutes, Favors impressed with a more expansive offensive game. He had a beautiful spin move in the first half as well as a nice jumper from the outside that left me wanting more. Still, in 16 minutes Favors should at least register a few rebounds.|
Four Things We Saw
- Most Valuable Player: After missing shootaround upon learning of his grandmother’s passing, Al Jefferson decided to play in her honor—and scored an inspired 33 points on 14-18 shooting.
- Defining Moment: Al Jefferson’s three-point shot as the final buzzer sounded was the first of his career and was a beautiful finish to an emotional performance. He also scored nine points over the final four minutes to put the game away.
- X-Factor: Rodney Stuckey seemed poised to be the latest quick guard to terrorize the Jazz. He ended with 29 points after putting up 21 in the first half. Instead CJ Miles sealed the game for the Jazz with his third three of the game.
- That Was… Emotional: The day started with a closed-door meeting between Raja Bell, Coach Corbin, and GM Kevin O’Connor to resolve an internal matter. Al Jefferson was doubtful to play, also. In the end, the Jazz found a way to put differences aside and picked up an important win.
As a preview post for tonight’s game against Philadelphia, I collaborated with Jazz blogger Clint Peterson (@Clintonite33) and two Sixers bloggers, Sean O’Connor (@SixerSense) and Vincent Heck (@HeckPhilly) to discuss a few relevant Jazz-Sixers topics. The two Jazz writers asked two sets of questions to the two Sixers writers and vice versa. Topics ranged from Evan Turner’s point guard potential to the Jazz’s rebuilding strategy. To read the full post, go to the Utah Jazz Blog. In the meantime, enjoy the best highlight from the Jazz’s early-season victory over the Sixers as well as indisputable video evidence that Enes Kanter can actually dunk.
About a month ago, Ty Corbin was asked if he planned to name a team captain. His response was that there would be no one captain. “We have 13 captains,” he said. More recently when asked the same question, Corbin’s response was unchanged: 13 Captains. The Jazz would epitomize team play. It would be Rule By the Masses. Democratic Basketball. No one player in charge; the entire roster, top to bottom, to be accountable for every loss and responsible for every win. Everyone getting a paycheck would also get playing time.
Just like actual democracy, this is a great idea in theory. The ideal of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts has a romantic, Constitutional Convention, Whitman-esque appeal that attracts everyone from political speechwriters to corporate team-building leaders to fans of Jerry Bruckheimer movies. The idea–that the land of milk, honey and professional glory is just around the bend as long as everyone sacrifices ego and selflessly works together–drives the philosophy behind a team like this: a team with no All-Stars (not even Paul Millsap) and no clear frontrunner for the Future of the Franchise (not even Gordon Hayward or Derrick Favors).
So a 17-19 team with glaring problems (and a road record (3-13) that would make even the most optimistic of fans wince) appears to be failing the experiment. The team is either not properly “summing” or the parts are so wanting in talent and quality that no amount of togetherness could push them to success.
The team’s failures certainly aren’t related to off-court chemistry problems–and any lack of on-court chemistry is nothing as bad as the B.L. (Before Lin) New York Knicks. On the other hand, it would also be inaccurate to ascribe the mounting losses to a lack of talent, like the New Orleans Hornets. If anything, the Jazz are widely considered one of the most talented, albeit young, teams in the NBA. [Editor's note: The Jazz have talent, but no star talent. The NBA is a league of stars and a case could be made that the Jazz don't have a top 30 player.] So if the Jazz aren’t suffering from the two major obstacles to the “Pure Teamwork” Success Model, why are they still suffering? Why are they still losing to the Sacramento Kings and the New Orleans Hornets of this league?
Team basketball! Ten deep every single night! 13 Captains! Working together! So why aren’t they better? Why do we have to endure the pain of following sub-.500 basketball? The problem with this Utah Jazz team is not a problem with a lack of “team-ness” among the players. In fact, just the opposite is true. The problem might be that the current Utah Jazz are too much of a team. Too many players avoid taking the leadership role–to the detriment of the team. The very togetherness that powers the 13 Captains experiment is also often the quality that drives down the level of basketball.
Consider the benefits of playing as a team. As a unit, the flaws of one player can be covered by a teammate. Last year’s champs, the Dallas Mavericks featured Jason Terry, a relatively poor perimeter defender, but DeShawn Stevenson and Shawn Marion are not. Thus, they hide Terry’s poor defense. However, Shawn Marion and is a sub-par outside shooter, but Jason Terry, an excellent outside shooter, can stretch the defense and hit momentum-swinging threes when Shawn Marion could not. Similarly, Dirk Nowitzki could carry the scoring load for the team but could not defend the rim. Tyson Chandler, whose scoring capacity is negligible, could do what Dirk could not: defend the rim. The final product is a team that has a cover for every flaw. The individual shortcomings of each player become negated. Thus, we have a nearly perfect team, if not the perfect group of players.
But what if a team was so close as a unit, that it became one player. What if the boundaries between individuals on a team became so blurred that the team itself behaved like a single player. Then this team, though working together as one unit, would merely be a larger iteration of one player: talented in some areas, flawed in others, subject to the range of human characteristics and emotions. Characteristics like laziness, unpredictability, and inconsistent greatness and emotions like despair, anger, frustration, relief and joy. Though a team is really nothing more than a label for an arbitrary group comprised of individuals, the individuals on this Jazz team have become so intertwined in performance and in feeling that it’s impossible to treat them any longer as a team. They have collectively entered the realm of human expression, and it is likely to their ultimate failure. This oneness of the team will drive it to entirely collapse on difficult road games, where a more fragmented collection of individuals, like the Miami Heat for instance, could ride the strengths of certain players to victory. This team has no such luxury.
To judge this year’s Jazz by wins and losses might be missing the point. We are experiencing the noblest kind of fandom: Affection for that which may fail. This is a team that is both occasionally terrible and frequently lovable, and the 13 souls that comprise the whole should be enjoyed and appreciated.
In the 2006 NBA playoffs, when Devin Harris broke down the door and crashed San Antonio’s party of Western Conference dominance, he brought to the game a certain unassuming simplicity. His style was a sharp contrast to his Spurs counterpart, Tony Parker. Though both relied primarily on speed, Parker’s speed was merely one characteristic of his flashy drives. When Parker slashed into the lane, hesitated just enough to force the defense into confronting him, then slashed again, this time to the bucket and for a lay-up, there was a notable panache. Almost as if a single one of Parker’s drives was a piece of music all its own, complete with a powerful intro, a melodic bridge, a sharp climax, and a smooth outtro. On the other side of the court, Harris was accomplishing the same type of basketball play–a drive to the bucket for a layup–without any of the trimmings of Parker’s brilliance. Harris’s drives were spartan, completely reliant on his lightning quick first step and his unrivaled speed to the hoop. It was always a straight line, from the top of the key–or from the mid-court line during fast breaks–straight to the rim. No detours, no hesitation, just unbridled speed. And it was refreshing. Here was a young guard, unafraid of the established status quo, doing the only thing he knew how: drive hard to the hoop. When the series was over and the Spurs were going home, Devin Harris was the fresh face of point guardry in Texas, and the perfect rival to the French Savant from San Antonio.
Six years later, Devin Harris is returning to Dallas. This fact alone is hardly noteworthy. He returned to his NBA roots a number of times during his career, both while on the Nets and more recently the Jazz. Yet this game will be different. This time it is noteworthy. For the first time since those All-Star days in Dallas, Devin Harris is Devin Harris again. In the Kings game, we saw the first flashes of the original speedster iteration of Harris. Against Houston, Devin Harris had officially returned. In a match-up against one of this generation’s rising guards Kyle Lowry, Harris was indisputably dominant, and in the uniquely Devin Harris way. The rejuvenation movement continued last night against Miami. He was pulling down rebounds and grabbing outlet passes as quickly as he could, turning up the court, and turning on the jets. Straight Line Harris was back. He saw his path to the basket, and whether he was initializing launch from Houston’s free throw line or the top of the key, his speed was irrepressible. He scored lay-up after lay-up. The simplest kind of two points with the simplest kind of tool: speed; and when the clock was winding down on what was sure to be another disappointing Jazz loss, Harris was there to rewrite the ending. There he was again, taking on the status quo, the established authority of the Miami Heat, and doing it with one hard drive to the basket.
So on the heels of this three-game renaissance, Devin Harris will enjoy a return to the same hardwood where it all began. Maybe the Dallas fans won’t recall enough sentiment, good or bad, for Harris to cheer or boo him during pregame introductions, but I remember the Devin Harris of the 06 playoffs, and from my comfortable couch a time zone away, I’m going to cheer that Devin Harris’s homecoming. Not a homecoming to Dallas, but a homecoming to what made him so great.
|Josh Howard, SF 29 MIN | 7-12 FG | 0-2 FT | 7 REB | 3 AST | 15 PTS | +4
Howard seems determined to prove he deserves the starting spot. During the first quarter, Howard could not miss and for stretches, he carried the Jazz’s offense. He shoots from the mid-range like other players shoot lay-ups, and for this Jazz team, that’s a valuable asset.
|Paul Millsap, PF 25 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 4 PTS | -6
Millsap performed another disappearing act in this one. All game long, he was invisible on defense and even more critically, on offense. Millsap has consistently been the Jazz’s best player this season, so when he completely checks out like this, it’s extremely difficult for the Jazz to win.
|Al Jefferson, C 29 MIN | 6-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 3 AST | 12 PTS | -11
Jefferson didn’t shoot particularly well, but he played within the offense, hit the cutters, and didn’t stop the ball. Unfortunately, he looked painfully outmatched by his defense match-up: DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins grabbed 8 offensive rebounds and generally pushed Jefferson around.
|Devin Harris, PG 31 MIN | 7-10 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 7 AST | 18 PTS | -2
In the final two minutes of the game, Harris was the go-to guy the Jazz have been searching for all season long. He was the only player with the confidence to answer the Kings basket for basket. Add to this that he played 31 minutes, notched seven assists, and didn’t commit a single turnover, and this was everything you could ask for from Harris.
|Gordon Hayward, SG 27 MIN | 5-10 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 11 PTS | -6
Statistically, this was a solid night for Hayward. Unfortunately, his three point percentage is still spiraling into the low 20s, and the last of his three misses from beyond the arc was a wide open look that could have won it for the Jazz.
|Earl Watson, PG 17 MIN | 0-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 PTS | -5
The elephant in the room with Earl Watson is his inability to score. Any opponent who reads the scouting report on Watson immediately knows to sag off him, dare him to shoot, and play the pass. This negates a lot of Earl’s effectiveness. That said, his defense and floor vision still make his minutes worthwhile.
|C.J. Miles, SF 21 MIN | 4-11 FG | 4-4 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 13 PTS | -1
C.J. provided some crucial scoring off the bench, but four three-point attempts for a player shooting under 30% is far too many. It’s obvious Corbin wants (and needs) C.J. to be the offensive spark plug for the Jazz, but C.J.’s shot selection has to make him question whether that’s a wise strategy.
|Derrick Favors, FC 25 MIN | 3-10 FG | 1-4 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 7 PTS | -2
If only Favors could finished around the rim, then this would have been a double-double. His rebounding numbers continue to be encouraging, and during his shifts playing defense on DeMarcus Cousins, Cousins was forced into bad shots and forced out of offensive rebounds.
|Alec Burks, G 19 MIN | 5-8 FG | 1-3 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 11 PTS | -11
Any casual NBA fan who turned this game on could potentially believe that Alec Burks was the Jazz’s best player, and for one night, that might have been true. Beyond purchasing a 50 x 50 foot billboard outside of Energy Solutions Arena with screaming red letters that read “PLAY ME,” there’s nothing else Burks can do to show he deserves legitimate minutes.
|Enes Kanter, F 17 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-4 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 4 PTS | +5
Kanter desperately needs a more polished post game, and his put-backs leave a lot of strength and tenacity to be desired, but his rebounding and defense are always there. Tonight was no different.
Three Things We Saw
- DeMarcus Cousins abused the Jazz frontline all night long. Cousins finished with 22 points and 18 rebounds, while his Jazz counterparts Millsap and Jefferson finished with only 16 points and 10 boards combined. Cousins was tough, at times even nasty, but his bullying paid off.
- The X-factor of this game was free throw shooting. The Jazz were a miserable 11-22 from the line, while the Kings shot 24-29. On a night when the Jazz consistently drew fouls, they could not consistently capitalize. The free throw disparity was more than enough to account for the seven-point loss.
- Defining Moment: Down two with 30 seconds left, the Jazz squandered a gift-wrapped opportunity. Devin Harris sliced into the lane and then kicked it out to a wide open Gordon Hayward in the corner. As is typical for a team impotent from beyond the arc, Hayward bricked the three, and the Kings closed it out with clutch free-throw shooting.