The Utah Jazz were clearly interested in getting out of Brooklyn quickly on Friday night. Maybe it was Winter Storm Jonas bearing down. Or maybe they just wanted to erase the sting of consecutive tough losses on their eastern swing.
After playing three extra periods in their last two games, Utah made quick work of the Nets, scoring a 108-86 win in just two hours and two minutes. Their bus ride to Newark International might take longer. And while the desire to clear Tri-State area airspace before the blizzard conditions got too bad might have had something to do with it, the Jazz were clearly looking to put a couple of heartwrenching losses behind them.
“It was good for us to finally get a win like this, especially with the emotional losses that we had,” said Utah’s Gordon Hayward, whose 21 points and nine assists were both game highs. “It was good for our confidence. I thought we moved the basketball really well. There was multiple guys in double figures1 and I think it’s fun when you play like that.”
Indeed, several guys got in on the fun. Their 28 assists marked the second highest total of the season in that category. As a result, Utah shot 57% for the game, including bagging 56% of their threes.
“The defense was really hedging hard,” Hayward said after his own nine-assist night. “That allowed our wings to kind of pull two guys with them and then make the right read, make the right pass. Whether it was to the corner or to the guy rolling down the middle of the lane, we shared the ball really well.”
It wasn’t all fun and games, though. Brooklyn opened on a 12-2 run in just the first 2:46 and minutes later led by 11 after a Brook Lopez hook shot. But then Utah scored the next 10, including eight by Hayward, and kept it close until early in the second quarter, when a Rodney Hood drive put them up for good.
But it was in the third quarter that they really created some distance. They won that frame 37-17, and had stretches where it seemed they couldn’t miss. They shot 73% for the period, getting offensive contributions from eight different players. Their offensive rating for the quarter was an unreal 165.8, but multiple Jazz players attributed the runaway quarter to what happened on the other end.
“We defended. I think that’s the biggest thing,” said Hood, who added 16 points. “When we rack up stops like we do, we’re a really good team. I think that was the recipe, it’s just about doing it for 48 minutes.”
The quarter included runs of 10-2, 8-0 and then another 10-2. It also included multiple defensive stops and highlight plays, like this nifty through-the-legs cross-over that Andy Bailey was kind enough to capture.
But Hood was right: the game was as much about defense as anything. The Nets have been struggling of late, losing 9 of their last 10 before hosting Utah, and the Jazz did nothing to make their lives any easier. After citing a lack of defensive connectedness in their loss to the Knicks, Utah was much more disciplined on that end once they crossed the East River.
Utah stuck mostly to its usual defensive tactics on the way to their successful defensive quarter and game. Bigs mostly dropped back against high and side pick-and-rolls, while the Jazz switched some small-to-small picks. Hayward iced a lot of picks2 set for proven scorer Joe Johnson, and when Joe did make it to the screen, Hayward usually followed him over the top of screens. The Nets made adjustments to get Johnson some momentum heading into the screen, and a couple of times that allowed him to get to the middle and create problems for the Jazz. But for the most part Utah’s scheme was solid and their defensive execution taut.
“I think everybody’s frustrated,” a somber Johnson said after his team lost its fifth straight and 10th of the month. “But I don’t believe anybody’s giving up. We gotta fight for each and every individual in this locker room, including the coaching staff. We just got a lot of work to do.”
Johnson was held to eight points, but did contribute four assists, largely off of those defense-drawing drives to the middle of the lane. Both of the Nets’ leading scorers came off the bench, as Bojan Bogdanovic tallied 14 points and Willie Reed reached 12. Starters Wayne Ellington and Thaddeus Young had 11 and 10, respectively.
Meanwhile, aside from Hayward and Hood’s contributions, Utah got a double-double from Trevor Booker, who bounced back nicely after missing key shots in Wednesday’s fourth-quarter collapse in Manhattan. Booker scored 13 points on 10 shots, and grabbed 10 boards. Rudy Gobert chipped in 10 points, as did rookie starters Raul Neto and Trey Lyles, and Trey Burke came off the bench to add 12.
The game was supposed to be Utah’s third in a four-game trip, but the imminent winter storm forced the NBA to cancel Saturday’s Jazz-Wizards game in Washington, where forecasters expect as much as 30 inches of snow. Instead, the Jazz headed back to Salt Lake City, where they play their next six.
It’s a key stretch for Utah, which, at 19-24, needs some wins to get back inside the Western Conference’s top eight. Since the injury bug bit at the start of December, the Jazz have gone 11-16, including losing some ostensibly winnable games. They’ve fallen out of the playoff picture with one more loss than Sacramento, currently the 8th place team.
“There’s been some tough losses here of late, so we gotta keep working, try to get better” Hayward said.
“The wins will come,” Hood added. “We just gotta keep grinding, keep playing hard and I think it’ll follow.”
Odds & Ends
Ever since posting about Gobert’s block list last week, I have sort of appointed myself the keeper of the record. So indulge me for a minute as I update the tally.
Rudy had already gotten Ellington, whom he turned away in the first quarter. But Young and Reed were new customers, bringing the total number of players who have been at the business end of a French Rejection to 192. Reed’s denied attempt was particularly Vine-worthy, as the 25-year-old rookie rumbled into the paint only to be turned away with two hands. Reed ended up on his backside and Gobert ended up with the ball.
Ellington joined 72 others who have fallen victim to the Stifle Tower more than once.
The NBA will need to find an alternate date for that Wiz-Jazz contest, but between the schedules of those two teams and the available dates at Washington’s Verizon Center3, that won’t be easy.
Historically, the NBA has tried to handle postponements in a way that doesn’t create back-to-back-to-backs for either team, but that’s nearly impossible. There are only two ways to acheive that, but both present complications. They could bring the two teams back early from the All-Star break4 and play the game on February 17, but the arena is booked that night for the end of a week-long Disney on Ice run. The only other way to avoid a 3-in-3 situation is to tack it on at the end of the regular season, but putting a game on that Thursday would complicate playoff planning, assuming that the Jazz and/or Wiz are in the postseason picture.
That leaves only dates that create 3-in-3 situations for one or both squads. March 6 would work, but gives Utah a Grizz-Pels-Wiz trifecta on consecutive nights, all on the road. The next night also works, but then Utah would have to go all the way home to face Dallas before continuing onto Oakland.
April 4 and April 12 would both create scenarios where Utah would have to fly to Washington in between two games out West. In other words, there are no great options.
The Wizards are a team roughly on the Jazz’s tier, so playing them on their court is going to be tough (but still winnable) no matter when the game happens. The bigger concern now is rescheduling it for a time when it doesn’t make it harder to win the other games around it.
Some weird minute trends to watch. I’m not sure what any of this means, but Burke played fewer minutes than both Neto and deep reserve Chris Johnson, and Joe Ingles only played 3:50 until garbage time. Additionally, Withey still appears to be behind both Lyles and Booker in terms of the big rotation, as tonight he logged just 18 minutes, half of which came in the final period of the blowout.