Game 1 Notes: Jazz Can Compete by Cutting Errors

May 3rd, 2017 | by Dan Clayton

Andrew D. Bernstein via utahjazz.com

The Jazz lost their first conference semifinal game in seven years by a dozen points on Tuesday, giving up two key runs during which Golden State looked every bit the role of title favorites.

The Warriors outscored the Jazz 19-6 in a first-half run that spanned the first quarter break, just after the Jazz had closed to within a single point. Later, the No. 1-seeded Dubs turned a seven-point lead into 20 over a five-minute span in the early fourth. When they wanted to find the accelerator, they found it.

But they weren’t that far from being competitive, and most of the wounds that marked that difference were of the self-inflicted variety. Pare away some of those mistakes, and it’s clear that the Warriors didn’t have as easy a time against the usually stout Utah defense as the scoreboard would indicate.

Specifically, the Jazz let the home team feast on opportunities that resulted from their own poor offensive execution. Utah’s live ball turnovers and some bad misses fueled a sizeable portion of Golden State’s scoring, and whenever the Jazz succeeded in getting the Warriors to execute against a set defense, the results were more auspicious.

The Warriors scored on all seven of Utah’s live TOs, and always within two to 10 seconds. Those seven steals accounted for 13 of their points. They scored another 17 on eight plays where the took a live Jazz miss from the field and scored within ten seconds. The worst ones were the times when guys initially got back, but then lost track of someone darting to the rim at the last second. This happened at least a few times.

That’s just out of character for the Jazz, and something they’ll clearly focus on cleaning up. But in Game 1, those quick hitters after Jazz misses or live turnovers accounted for 30 of GSW’s 106 for the game.

When the Jazz made the Warriors play against their defense, the results were far better:

  • GSW scored 185.7 points per 100 possessions after a live Jazz TO (7 possessions)
  • GSW scored 123.3 points per 100 possessions after rebounding a live Jazz FGA miss (30)
  • GSW scored 100.0 points per 100 possession on all other plays (56)

There were certainly still defensive mistakes in the halfcourt. Utah was committed to chasing shooters off the three-point line, but sometimes the weak side defenders didn’t shift enough or shifted too much, and the Warriors cutters feasted. That 100.0 figure isn’t great for a set defense, but it shows that the Jazz had a solid game plan for guarding non-transition stuff. At that number, they can at least compete with the Warriors.

All this is to say simply that the Jazz’s best defensive adjustment for Game 2 is probably just better offensive execution. Fewer turnovers and bad misses would mean fewer runouts, and more possessions where Golden State has to deal with Utah’s set defense. Let’s say the Jazz had converted on even a third of those 15 possessions mentioned above. That’s 10 extra points for Utah, and five more possessions where Golden State is operating at a 100.0 ORtg instead of highlight-producing runouts.

Will that alone make enough of a difference for G2 (or any other game in this series) to be close? It’s tough to say. The Warriors are really flippin’ good, and there’s a whack-a-mole element to playing them where if you cut off one part of their game, they’ll take advantage elsewhere. Pay more attention to the cutters and they might make an extra couple of threes.

But cutting out some of their unforced mistakes and bad offensive decisions could be enough to make things competitive.

A few other notes about G1:

Not-so-small ball

For all the talk of small lineups, the Warriors only played about about a quarter of the game without two traditional big men on the court — and three of those came in garbage time with the 6’9″ James McAdoo and four perimeter players.

The Dubs’ most-used 1-big lineup didn’t have much success, either. A unit of Javale McGee, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Steph Curry sported a -41.5 net rating in just over five minutes.

Utah, though, remains mostly committed to playing small, even when their hosts had a two-big tandem out on the court. Which makes me wonder if at some point the Jazz will go the other direction and try to impose their size. Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors didn’t play a second together in G1, and it could be something coach Quin Snyder tries as the series goes on. It doesn’t work against every GSW lineup combination, but they can probably work against a Zaza Pachulia/Draymond Green combo. Or McGee/David West.

It’ll be interesting to see if, and in what circumstances, Snyder feels comfortable using that option.

Hot Hood

Rodney Hood has had some rough outings in the postseason, but for a long stretch in the third quarter, the Jazz got to imagine the resurgence of the more aggressive, efficient version of their third-year guard.

Hood hit all five of his third-quarter shots, but more impressive was how he did it. After a 1-for-4 first half, Hood apparently figured out that long-range missiles weren’t landing. So he came out attacking. Four of those five buckets in the frame came in the lane, and the other was a pull-up from the elbow. He attacked open spaces, and relished the moments when a switch resulted in a smaller Warrior checking him.

If the Jazz are to make this series interesting, they’ll need Hood to stay aggressive — and not just in bombing away from a distance.

Was Mack really that bad?

Jazz Twitter gets almost giddy with indignation every time Shelvin Mack checks in. Partly because every Mack minute comes at the expense of one of two popular young guys, Mack does probably shoulder an unfair amount of the blame when things go wrong.

He does do some head-scratching things, though, and the top item on that list to these eyeballs is his weird habit of bodying up on players way beyond the three-point line, almost begging them to drive by him.

On Tuesday, three guys took turns as primary defenders on Curry. See if you notice any differences in how each of the three guarded Steph when isolated out beyond the arc.

Three defenders, same situation. Which one of these things is not like the other?

Against a speedy ball handler, most defenders give him that little bit of daylight in that situation to maintain an ability to react no matter which way he goes. If you attach yourself to a guy’s hip out there, then the only way you can guarantee you’ll be able to stay in front is if you have elite lateral quickness — and maybe some mind-reading abilities. As far as I know, Mack doesn’t have either.

So what happens often when he crowds a guy 30 feet from the basket is that the guy is able to advance without a screen. Watch this play where Curry beats Mack twice, both times without a screen. Most of the Jazz’s defensive adjustments at the point of attack revolve around the role that the screener’s man plays. With no screener, there’s no obvious place for the helper/hedger to come from, so the whole defense winds up compromised.

You just can’t give Curry that kind of advantage.

Again, I say this knowing that Mack does certain things better than Jazz fans (speaking generally) give him credit for. He is good about fighting his way back to his man after a screen, and he doesn’t hesitate about punishing defenses with straight-line drives if they err toward helping on the roll man. But I do wonder why Mack is still doing this in his team’s 90th game of the season. Either the staff hasn’t addressed it with him, or they have and he just likes applying pressure anyway… or perhaps the coaches see some symbolic value in peskily getting up and under a guy, even though the immediate outcomes are usually less than favorable.

If he’s going to continue to see significant time as a primary defender of Curry, this is something to keep an eye on.

History repeats itself?

If you’ve heard the latest SCH podcast, you’ve heard my brother Ken’s hopeful historical parallel by now. The elder1 Clayton says that this year’s Jazz remind him a bit of the up-and-coming 1988 squad that credentialed itself as a team to watch by pushing a Laker superteam — not unlike this GSW group — to seven games. The fifth-seeded ’88 Jazz won a first-round series on the road and then gave the Showtime Lakers a tougher time than anybody thought possible at the time.

After the first 48 minutes of this series, Ken’s parallel holds up.

OK, OK, we Claytons aren’t actually asking you to celebrate a double-digit loss just because a team 29 years ago suffered the same fate. But the rising Jazz of yesteryear struggled badly in Game 1 and still made it a series. They snuck away with a tightly contested Game 2 win in L.A., then came home and took Game 3. The Lake Show stole homecourt advantage back in Game 4, but Utah defended court in the sixth game to push Magic Johnson & co. to a seventh game and put the basketball world on notice of what was to come.

 

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 and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

One Comment

  1. John Jenkins says:

    Dan, I agree to agree and disagree. Yep, Shelvin defense at distance is bad, but his defense on the screen and roll is as egregious. He gets beats and is stalled off the screen and never recovers. He then never helps. Many times he is then guarding air. His off the ball defense allows cutters with zero resistance. He also cut off a straight line drive from Dante. Look at his assists to Rudy and Hayward.

Leave a Reply

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