Flat Jazz Fall at Home to the Pacers

January 16th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

NBAE via Pacers.com

On paper, the Indiana Pacers without Myles Turner and Utah Jazz without Rudy Gobert are fairly evenly matched teams: both deep on talent but lacking elite impact players; both egalitarian in their offensive scheme; both prioritizing active defense and deflections.

On the floor on Monday night, however, a fatigued and obviously frustrated Utah squad was outplayed on both sides of the ball and blown off the court by 15 in their own building, 94 to 109.

Once again the team trailed out of the gate, as Utah turned the ball over on the first two plays of the game. Unable to get stops and sluggish on offense throughout the quarter, Utah made only one three point shot on seven attempts and not a single free throw. Meanwhile, they watched the Pacers drill four long bombs and parade to the line to hit seven of nine attempts. After one, they were already down 10.

A 14-0 Jazz run in the second quarter pulled them within one and, just for a moment, brought the illusion that the team’s vigor and confidence at home from early in the season might manifest. But without Gobert in uniform, Utah’s defensive identity and swagger are gone. The team’s defense—once all but run-proof—immediately gave back almost all the team had gained as the Pacers retaliated with a 12 to zero run.

Utah never seriously threatened again.

Mitchell tried to bolster his team with seven points in the third, and Derrick Favors fought to anchor the other side of the ball with a block and three steals in the quarter, but the rest of the team failed to follow. Indiana outscored Utah in the quarter 27 to 18 and the Jazz would never again get the game within 10.

All things considered, it was a depressing start to stretch of several apparently winnable games. The Jazz had better play better than this or they won’t win often against any team in the league, even at home.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Mitchell (23 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals)

Mitchell continues to be Utah’s lone bright spot on the season. Midway through the third quarter, he had showed the dynamic and multifaceted offensive game that has so surprised the league, scoring 23 points on only 11 shots. But in a continuation of a recent trend, he grew visibly tired toward the end of the game, finishing with five consecutive misses. The gumption Mitchell has shown in shouldering an unreal load for this team has been amazing, but he’s still a rookie and he’s worn down. He plain needs more help.

Secondary Star: Derrick Favors (16 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks)

Favors played 29 minutes. In about 12 he was heavily involved, mostly due to his own energy grabbing four offensive rebounds and stuffing most back through the hoop. In the rest of his time, he was practically invisible. Utah’s guards scare no one in the pick and roll, and Favors’s strength as a roll man is wasting because of it.

Secret Stars: Ekpe Udoh (8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, 4 blocks) and Raul Neto (5 points, 3 assists)

Udoh was awesome defensively off the bench. He was not only the Jazz’s best defender but their most energetic one, and combined with Favors to provide the team’s only real defensive impact. While Indiana’s starters killed their Jazz counterparts, Udoh’s presence changed the balance of the game, as Utah outscored the Pacers by 15 with him on the floor.

In his first game back from injury, Neto played 12 minutes and was a plus-four on the night. His three assists are as many or more than Ricky Rubio has dished out in 14 games this season, which is staggering. Neto also made one of his two threes, and is now shooting 46 percent in, admittedly, limited attempts from beyond the arc this season. Neto has shot 50 percent or better in eight of his last 12 games. He needs a lot more minutes, both to spell Mitchell but also because he’s simply been more effective than Rubio.

Stats of the Game

27 percent – Utah’s three point accuracy. The team is now 0-and-12 when they shoot 30 percent or less from long range.

11 – Jazz assists, tying their season low. They look too tired to move.

Minus-10 – The lost battle of fast break points, where Utah managed only four.

77 – Points scored outside the paint by the Pacers. Favors and Udoh protected the rim well, but Indiana killed Utah’s perimeter defenders and effectively attacked away from Utah’s bigs.

132.4 – Utah’s defensive rating from 6:08 in the second quarter on. For the sake of comparison, the Sacramento Kings have the worst defensive rating in the NBA at 109.8.

Sundries

  • Much was rightly said about Gordon Hayward’s departure in free agency, but far too little has been mentioned about how much Utah misses George Hill. Just remember what Hill did last season: 17 points on 48 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent from three, and 80 from the free throw line. More than four assists per game and better than three and a half rebounds. There’s a strong argument to be made that Hill’s absence, especially with Dante Exum once again losing a season to injury, has devastated the Jazz more than any other player’s departure.
  • At one point through the second and third quarters, Mitchell scored 19 of 21 Utah points. He did what he could to carry the team and just ran out of gas. The young man is all guts and heart and deserves more from teammates all older and more experienced than he.
  • Utah’s offense is running like a watch with every gear missing half its teeth. The problems were glaring at both the start of the half and the second quarter, times when mandates from the coaching staff are most fresh. In the first quarter, the Jazz turned the ball over seven times. Then to start the third quarter, three more turnovers fueled a nine to zero Pacer run that essentially ended the game. Not only are they missing shots, they’re often not even getting shots out of the offense unless Mitchell, Hood, Burks, or, frighteningly, Rubio get a shot on their own.
  • Indiana killed Utah in the pick and roll by dragging Utah’s center onto the ball handler and then swinging the ball to the opened up player, either at the three point line or near the hoop. Thaddeus Young hit three triples alone on that play, and Domantas Sabonis got a number of wide open jumpers at the top of the key as well. Utah’s scheme was to deny the ball handler the opportunity to even use the screen, and when that worked the defense did well. But too often the screen came into play, and Utah’s rotation and help defense were awful.
  • While many Jazz players are fatigued, Joe Ingles and Mitchell are running on empty. Ingles has logged the most minutes on the team, more than 1,300, and he’s spent. He only played 20 minutes tonight and ended up with zero points on one shot with one assist and one steal. He got embarrassed by Victor Oladipo on a back door and just couldn’t keep up all night defensively. Meanwhile, Mitchell has logged the second-most minutes on the team, nearly 1,300, and is hitting the area where the college basketball season ends. It’s starting to show.

At this point, there has to be real question within the Jazz organization, from top to bottom, about what the objective of the season is. With the trade deadline fast approaching and Gobert near to returning from injury for the second time this season, a determinate choice is fast approaching. Does the team try to push itself back into contention for a playoff position? If not, is there really any choice but to consolidate behind Gobert and Mitchell and try to swap some existing talent for future prospects?

The next four games—at Sacramento on Wednesday, home versus the Knicks and Clippers, and at the lowly (12-31) Hawks—may well determine the answer to that question.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.
Clint Johnson

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One Comment

  1. John Jenkins says:

    Ekpe is a steal of a signing.He plays smart as well as with heart and agression.
    Another who show real promise besides Thabo is Royce. Shots with confidence but is not a ball hog and he rebounds which is seriously needed by the Jazz. This starting line up needs changed.

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