Down Five Players, Jazz Can’t Stop Nets in a 118-107 Loss

November 18th, 2017 | by Dan Clayton

 

Net on Neto violence: Raul scored well, but the Jazz got smacked in Brooklyn. (Abbie Parr via ESPN.com)

The Jazz suffered their sixth straight road loss on Friday night for a lot of different reasons: porous defense, not enough players breaking the paint, and an overall energy deficit.

But the fair place to start in picking apart the club’s 118-107 loss at Brooklyn is this: it’s hard to win without half your rotation.

You could start Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, Thabo Sefolosha, Joe Johnson and Rudy Gobert and win some ball games. Those are five good players: a star, a solid starter and three players who are high-level reserves or borderline starters. No matter how much one might have expected from each of those players individually before the season, going into battle with all five of those guys missing is problematic. Rubio and Sefolosha were ruled out on game day, while Gobert and Johnson are still working their way back from longer-term issues. Exum remains out indefinitely after shoulder surgery.

The rotation that resulted from all those absences yielded a lot of quirky lineups, and pain was particularly felt on the defensive end. Breakdown after breakdown led to easy buckets for the hosts, who shot above 51 percent from the field for the night, dropped 17 three-point shots and took decent care of the ball (12 TOs). More than a couple of times, Jazz coach Quin Snyder turned around to scan his bench after a defensive mistake — as if searching for a better answer — then turned back to the court to keep viewing the game.

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson made a lineup change that succeeding in tugging at the Jazz defense until seams appeared. Timofey Mozgov has been the team’s nominal starter in all 13 games, someone who appears for the first six or eight minutes of each half and then doesn’t return. But on Saturday night, Atkinson just abandoned the ruse and went straight to his smallish lineups. Mozgov didn’t even play.

Former Jazzman Trevor Booker, hardly a center, got the starting nod instead, and the Jazz struggled to follow the ball and player movement in the face of Brooklyn’s five-out approach. It made a difference right from the tip, as the Nets sprinted to a 39-point opening quarter.

Utah’s starters hung in there for a while, exchanging blow for blow in a high-paced, hot-shooting start.The Jazz held a 20-17 lead at the midpoint of the quarter, but as Utah starting going to its provisional bench unit, things fell apart. Brooklyn went on a 24-5 run spanning the latter part of the first quarter and the early moments of the second, and Brooklyn never trailed again. Utah cut their deficit to single digits to end the third quarter, but for the most part never got back in it.

The Nets were without important players, too. D’Angelo Russell didn’t play and Jeremy Lin remains out for the year. With their two best point guard options on the inactive list, Spencer Dinwiddie got the start and led the Nets with a career-high 25 points, and all 10 Nets who played rotation minutes scored at least twice from the field. Allen Crabbe had 18 and DeMarre Carroll, another Jazz alumnus, added 17.

Utah got a career night from Raul Neto, who scored 22 in the losing effort. But it would be a stretch to say that Neto had a great night in overall terms. He, like several Jazz players, had a night full of defensive mistakes, and in the end posted a team-worst DRtg of 126.4. As aggressive as he was being with his 9-for-14 shooting, the team still got outscored by nine during Mitchell’s stints.

Neto is actually a good microcosm for the Jazz roster as a whole; several guys did some things well, and yet everybody has a “but” attached to their performance. Rookie Donovan Mitchell slid over to Rubio’s point guard spot and dished eight assists, but struggled with his shot (5-for-15) on the way to 15 points. Rodney Hood had 17 points with decent efficiency, but didn’t contribute much beyond that1. Derrick Favors had a 15-and-7 night, but put up light resistance around the paint and got beat by smaller players in several rebounding scrums.

Joe Ingles might have had the best all-around game on the team: 15 points all scored on perfect shooting from deep, plus some playmaking and rebounding. He then expressed his frustration to the Deseret News’ Eric Woodyard, saying, “I’m sick of losing.”

Once Utah realized that Brooklyn was going to play 48 minutes of small-ball, they adjusted their own game plan a bit. Consequently, Jonas Jerebko barely played after halftime. The problem was that Johnson’s and Sefolosha’s absences meant that Utah had limited options to go small themselves. That led to an outsized role for undrafted rookie Royce O’Neale. He was aggressive on the glass and had a thunderous transition dunk, but overall looked like a borderline rotation player being asked to do a lot more than be a borderline rotation player.

Add it all up and Utah just didn’t have the juice to claw back from that big early deficit. It was the club’s seventh loss in the last eight games

It’s hard to know how predictive this early 6-10 start is for Utah when Gobert has missed games and Rubio has been as up-and-down as he has. But this 1-7 stretch is certainly putting pressure on the Jazz to answer some question about their short and long term goals. The Jazz are only two games behind their 8-8 pace from this point last season, but they’ve also played a home-heavy schedule and have a brutal December ahead.

They’ll finish this trip with visits to Orlando and Philadelphia, but they’ll be underdogs in both of those matchups. Saturday’s game against the Magic almost feels like a scheduled loss as the third game in four nights, potentially with a light rotation again and against an improved team. And the Sixers are the same team that overwhelmed Utah a week ago in Salt Lake City.

So it could get worse before it gets better for the reeling Jazz. Especially if they’re going to keep having to play with a third of their team missing.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

One Comment

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    Maybe Quin Snyder was right (after all) to play Trevor Booker at center over Gobert, a couple of seasons ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *