While participating in the Daily Dime Live on Friday night I made the comment referencing the Jazz-Warriors game, “First to 80, wins it.” At the time I meant it as a joke. Little did I know that I’d be right. The final score to that *cough, cough* defensive affair was Warriors 85- Jazz 78. For those fans who didn’t turn off the game to watch grass grow, they saw two teams trying to play basketball but never quite succeed at that goal. There would be spurts were basketball was played but most of the game was filled with enough bricks to build the city of Dubai.
The Jazz’s frontcourt was completely outhustled. Sure, the Jazz shot better from the field (a miserable 39.5% to Golden States’ even more miserable 37.6%), but the Warriors outrebounded the Jazz 56 to 52 (20 of the Warriors rebounds were offensive), and the Jazz completely abandoned fundamentals, refusing to box anyone out in the paint. The Jazz had a chance to win this game even after playing miserably, but they just couldn’t pull it together long enough to actually finish off the Warriors.
Back to backs are brutal. Imagine playing a full game, flying back to SLC in the middle of the night, having no time to rest sore muscles and nagging injuries (Williams had back spasms, Millsap’s ankle, CJ’s ankle), and then be expected to play a double overtime game on the 2nd night against the Clippers. Brutal. Al Jefferson (can this guy ever have a negative attitude?) said this about the double OT game with the Clippers:
I’ll tell you the last thing I wanted was a double overtime and a loss, because I know if we go through all of that and lose the game…I’ll tell you, it was just one of those games you’re going to have. It was an ugly win. But I’ll take it any day of the week.
The Jazz overcame a horrible (and horrible is being positive) first half to come back and win this game in the 2nd half and two overtimes. Williams came alive. Millsap was the 20/10 guy we’re learning to expect this season. Al Jefferson stepped up. Kirilenko was active on both ends of the floor. This Jazz team played to their potential. And, boy, did they have to.
Eric Gordon was playing at his Olympic level and Blake Griffin was, well, Blake Griffin. Griffin was looking like he was easily going to get 20+ points and 20+ rebounds in this game after the first half. But then the Jazz went to work defensively and shut him down. Blake ended up fouling out and I’m sure no one on the Jazz bench felt any sympathy.
The Jazz will start a 4 game east coast road swing tomorrow when they face the Miami Heat. They will face off against 4 of the last year’s 8 playoff teams from the East: Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, and Charlotte. The fun part is they face these four teams in five days. This week will play out like a Predator movie. Survival does not look possible right now. Hope is bleak. If the Jazz barely scraped by the Clippers and played miserably against against a so-so Golden State team what will the Eastern Conference’s cream of the crop do against them? But there is hope.
Ron Boone might have said it best when he said he couldn’t find the pulse of this Jazz squad. What’s their identity? I think that identity will be found after this rough month of November. Jazz fans need to be patient with Utah right now. The Jazz are still a team trying to learn each other. Some nights are going to be offensive explosions, while others are going to be absolute no-shows. That’s by no means a cause for concern. The sky isn’t falling. Change takes time and is always bumpy at first. The key for November and this week’s tough schedule is survival. If the Jazz survive November with an above .500 record they will be in a good position for a run in December. Note it.
This was in John Hollinger’s PER Diem today:
Wesley Matthews, Portland: His defense has been an asset, which is the main reason Portland signed him. But after an impressive preseason, his offense has been dreadful in the games that count. Expected to provide floor spacing, Matthews is just 4-of-25 on 3s and has done nothing else well enough to make up for it.
I know we all miss Wesley Matthews but is there anyone that thinks he is worth what Portland is paying him?
I’m a huge fan of Bill Simmons writing. When I read his articles I get the feeling that he’s a super knowledgeable everyman, and I love his way of allowing his deeply rooted fanaticism sometimes overrule sanity on certain issues (mainly his love for the Celtics). The man knows his basketball, and in particular, he knows his Celtics. He’s seen the C’s players play so often that he knows them better than their own mothers do. That why this quote from one of his recent articles caught my eye:
We’re about five weeks from NBA GMs anonymously complaining to writers about the Al Jefferson hijacking. I can’t wait.
(On a personal note, I loved Big Al on the Celtics, rooted for him in Minnesota, felt like a proud dad when his career was taking off in January ’08, agonized for him when he blew out his knee that same month, then felt terrible last season as he struggled through one of the worst situations in recent memory. Seeing Jefferson get a chance to rejuvenate his career with a top-four point guard and a top-four coach — on a good team, in a city that gives a crap — is one of my five favorite things about this upcoming season. So there.)
Jefferson is improving every game. He’s averaging 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks a game, but instead of focusing solely on Jefferson’s production, Millsap has come alive and forced us to notice him. Boozer’s shadow has been lifted off Paul and he has come into his own. This season, Millsap is averaging 20 points, 11 rebounds 3 assists, 1 steal, and .5 blocks a game. He has had a double-double in 4 out of his 5 past games. The most impressive stat is he’s only averaging 3 fouls a game. A huge improvement for Millsap.
The realization I’m coming to is that Kevin O’Connor has created a real monster… he’s created, *dun, dun, dun*, Jeffer-Sap!! By splicing the DNA of a Millsap and a Jefferson (a.k.a. putting them in the same lineup) he has created an absolute beast in the paint. The Jeffer-Sap has been averaging 38 points, 20 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks a game. When at full speed it can demolish a team in the paint. Unfortunately, as we saw in the Golden State game, it can get easily confused, so hopefully the Jeffer-Sap monster is poised and ready for its road trip this week. If the Jeffer-Sap that we saw in Oklahoma City travels to the Southeast this week the Jazz could come out with a 2-2, maybe a 3-1 record from this road trip.