Game Recap: Jazz @ Warriors 12/23/15

December 24th, 2015 | by Clint Johnson
Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Warriors are who they are. The Jazz are trying to become who they want to be. The space between being and becoming is the biggest difference between these teams.

It may seem implausible to claim that a 18-point margin of victory crowned a heavily contested game, but it did. For about 42 or 44 minutes, the Jazz gave the world champions as good as they got. They did a lot of things right. Any time Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green combine to shoot 18 of 45, (40% and worse than the Jazz on the evening) you’re playing hard and well.

With 34 turnovers between the teams, it wasn’t an especially aesthetic game, but it compensated with abundant competitiveness, energy (especially defensively), and the youthful Jazz slogging back into striking distance time and again. The Warriors are lauded for the offensive bursts with which they dispatch teams early. The Jazz took a number of such hits then clawed and scratched their way back into striking range.

But four to six minutes worth of plays interspersed throughout the game killed the young upstarts. Even when Golden State isn’t playing their best — and the Jazz are consistently showing they can hinder the Warriors — they are comfortable in who they are: constant speed and crisp passing.

Yes, Golden State turned the ball over 15 times, a familiar bugaboo for a team with few flaws. Yet confidence in their passing never dimmed, earning them 26 assists as well.

They roasted Utah alive in the open court, blistering the methodical Jazz by 24 fast break points (26 – 2)! One could reasonable claim that was the difference in the game. But of even greater importance is when and how these quick scores happened. All too often, they were products of Jazz mistakes as players tried to make plays they aren’t yet comfortable making.

The Jazz allowed only 23 points in the first quarter, an impressive feat against such firepower — but it could have been 21 or even 17 had they not given up two open transition threes off of turnovers. Several times Utah allowed a basket only to turn the ball over or take a contested shot and then, in confused defense of a pick and roll, allow a screen setter to romp to the hoop for an easy score. Raul Neto ended a two-on-one break with a bounce pass right to Draymond Green. A Favors block in the fourth quarter began as a transition opportunity and became a Trevor Booker turnover.

These aren’t only Jazz mistakes. They’re opportunities for game-changing swings of four or five points. Golden State’s constant pace and ready passing allowed them to take advantage of specific breakdowns and opportunities in an otherwise closely contested game. The Jazz, on the other hand, often mangled similar situations. The 18-points margin on the night can easily be broken down into five or six possessions where the Jazz failed in trying to execute something where Golden State succeeded at doing what they normally do.

It takes maturity and chemistry to be consistently, comfortably good.  The Warriors are there and the Jazz aren’t. If the next few years see them grow into the self they are searching for, Utah versus Golden State will become must watch TV.

The Player Behind the Player of the Game: Rodney Hood

Derrick Favors scrapped for 17 points on 16 shots, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 4 turnovers, and 5 personal fouls. Everything was a fight, often against double or even triple teams. The champs wore down before he did, and in the fourth quarter he asserted himself for eight points on 50 percent shooting to go with five rebounds. Quin Snyder must have loved the force with which the team’s emerging star played.

That force has been a major talking point this season, particularly since the injury to Rudy Gobert. While the Jazz play energetically, they don’t always play forcefully. Favors gave both tonight, and Rodney Hood followed in step.

The results weren’t always there: in the first quarter he was only 2-6 from the field, suggesting another night of shooting in the low 30s. But the force was present. He put his head down and created shots in the lane. When a three was open, he launched it despite his well-publicized struggles, as he has all season.

Over the course of the game, that force was rewarded. The young Blue Devil notched 15 points on 11 shots, including 3 of 5 from three, while contributing 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 3 turnovers, and 3 fouls. Against the best of all opponents, he too fought.

Hood is often criticized for missing open shots, but too rarely is he praised for taking the shots. Even the turnovers and fouls are positive signs of a young player fighting through difficulty to make something happen on a team that too often doesn’t.

Fouls actually tell the tale of forcefulness as well as any metric: Derrick Favors racked up five personals, Hood committed three (as did Trevor Booker), where no other player garnered more than one. While fouls aren’t inherently good, in a game like this any player with plentiful minutes and only a single foul wasn’t bringing the force their coach is asking for.

The Jazz’s First Option Quandary

This game illustrated a burgeoning problem: who should be the Jazz’s primary offensive option?

The answer has unequivocally been Gordon Hayward, but that very certainty is the problem. Because if a first option is defined by the number of shots taken, then the Jazz are a better team when that role is filled by Derrick Favors. Hayward had arguably the worst offensive game of his career, tallying a mere eight points on 2-15 shooting (13 percent), including a dispiriting 0-5 from three. That’s 0.53 points per shot.

While that is unpleasant in a single game, performances of that ilk are, unfortunately, not unknown to Hayward, and they increase in severity with repetition. Since the beginning of last season, the former Butler star has shot 35 percent or worse from the field 13 times. That’s 12 percent of games in that span. Comparatively, Favors has done the same only twice. For a defensive-minded team that competes in many close contests, such struggles from a high volume offensive player are a major liability.

The principle is backed up in wins and losses. Since Snyder became head coach, the Jazz have won 54 percent of games when Favors shots the ball at least 15 times. When Hayward does, the winning percentage drops to 42 percent.

Hayward’s importance to the team is unquestioned, particularly on the offense. So too is the burden he has shouldered as the main, and sometimes only, driver of Utah’s offense. But with Favors blossoming into a true two-way star and significant offense weapon, the Jazz are going to have to make some hard choices about shot distribution.

It’s entirely possible the team’s best interest lies in getting Favors the most shots on the team so as to provide a steady offensive foundation; hopefully, Hayward could then leverage lessened pressure into improved offensive efficiency, for which he is truly irreplaceable in the Jazz offense.

Badly Needed Bench Contributions

While Alec Burks and Trey Burke both continued their seasons of strong bench production with 13 points each, the Jazz are desperate for contributions from their third big and fourth wing. Tonight, Joe Ingles (6 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals in 20 minutes) and Jeff Withey (9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and a team best +3 in plus/minus in 13 minutes) provided that.

They weren’t attention-grabbing games, just solid ones, and the Jazz need these type of contributions far more consistently than they’ve been getting them.

Only Jazz Fans Know (and Fear) Ian Clark

Assuming someone else hasn’t already done so, I officially crown Ian Clark “New Jazz Killer Supreme.” In two games this season, he’s shelled his former squad for 19 points in 14 minutes of play on only eight shots (seven made). That’s nearly 2.4 points per shot!

On a Warriors team with an offensive arsenal unlike any in NBA history, Clark is a five dollar firecracker. For some reason, however, he always finds a way to wriggle into the Jazz’s face before he goes off.

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.

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