Inept Offense Costs Utah Fourth Straight Loss, 74 – 84 to Heat

November 10th, 2017 | by Clint Johnson

(Miami Herald)

Story of the Game

As Utah’s offense slogged to a putrid 25-point second half in their 84 – 74 loss to Miami, their fourth straight defeat, a trend on the season crystallized: the Jazz offense cannot survive depending heavily on explosive perimeter scoring.

This worry was clearly in Quin Snyder’s mind entering the game, as illustrated by a shocking change in the starting line up. Donovan Mitchell, Utah’s exciting rookie, started the game in place of Rodney Hood, the player widely expected to serve as the Jazz’s primary scorer this season. The dramatic change energized the team and Utah played its best basketball in the last week, taking a 49 – 37 lead into halftime.

It was the type of score the team anticipated seeing more often this season, a grinding, defensive-oriented contest. But while only allowing 37 points drew attention to the strong defense, it also obscured that new starter Mitchell, newly benched Rodney Hood, and Alec Burks, who experienced a resurgence in both playing time and production against Miami, combined for 31 first half points on 5 of 6 shooting from long range. Those watching closely may have felt trepidation that the Jazz managed only 49 points in the half while shooting 51 percent from the field and a blistering 71 percent from three.

In the second half, perimeter players’ shooting swung back to the mean and beyond: Utah failed to make a single three in the second half, finishing 5 of 21 on the night (24 percent).

Meanwhile, Snyder intended to get Derrick Favors more involved in the offense early, a strategy that worked with two made buckets at the rim in the first quarter. By halftime, Favors and Rudy Gobert had combined for 10 field goal attempts, making six. In the second half the Heat packed the paint and Utah’s interior duo managed only four shots (three missed) as Favors essentially disappeared from the game beyond some offensive fouls and additional miscues.

Miami’s defenders switched the pick and roll all night and Utah was utterly inept at taking advantage. Numerous times Favors tried to post up on a guard only to have the offense unable to even get him the ball. If Snyder doesn’t find a way to get his offense to funnel more offensive opportunities to Gobert and Favors, who are shooting 62 and 53 percent on the season respectively, the offense will never be consistent enough for Utah to realistically threaten for a playoff slot.

Players of the Game

Superstar: None 

In a worrisome trend during this four-game losing streak, no Jazz player took command of the game for even a relatively short stretch.

Secondary Stars: Alec Burks and Rudy Gobert

Perhaps the only encouraging development on the night was Alec Burks return to relevance. He was probably Utah’s best player as attested by his traditional stat line–12 points on 8 shots, including 2 of 3 from long range, combined with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal–and his team leading plus-minus of plus-eight. He looked springy, especially on a monster dunk in the secondary break, and much more under control and comfortable than the past few weeks.

Gobert’s line of 12 points and 12 rebounds with 2 blocks should be considered in light of a frightening moment in the third quarter where a heat player fell into the center’s right knee, causing him to hobble to the lockerroom. That Gobert returned to the bench with a sleeve on his knee was a relief; that he returned to the game after even more so. But toughness and solid production aside, Gobert didn’t manage any better than perhaps a draw, if that, with rival Hassan Whiteside (8 points, 20 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks).

Secret Star: None

Thabo Sefolosha made a few plays to generate four points and four rebounds, and ended the night plus-two in 16 minutes, but never really managed much impact on the court. No other role player was worth considering.

Stats of the Game

5.6 percent – Utah’s field goal percentage in the third quarter where they shot one of 18, tying a franchise record for only one shot made in a quarter. The entire second half they only managed 12 percent shooting (four of 33).

15 – Missed three point shots in the second half by Utah on 15 attempts.

1 – Jazz assist in the second half.

23 – Minutes played by Ricky Rubio, a season low. He has now played fewer than 30 minutes in three straight games.

12 – Fourth quarter points by Dion Waiters. Utah scored only 17 points in the quarter.

Sundries

  • Rubio is struggling in every way possible right now except possibly in bursts of defensive effort. He did manage 3 steals tonight and his disruption in the late third and early fourth quarter gave the Jazz a little life. But overall, he’s been dreadful lately. Tonight, it was 4 points and only 2 assists combined with 5 turnovers, and he didn’t have the confidence to even attempt a three. In the four-game losing streak, he’s averaging 9.5 points and 4 assists on 23 percent from the field and seven–that’s right, seven!–percent from three. Add in nearly four turnovers a contest and it’s no surprise Utah is minus-33 with Rubio on the court during the losing streak.
  • Rubio’s struggles are directly related to Snyder’s decision to start Mitchell over Hood tonight. The Jazz desperately need players who can break the paint and at least threaten to score at the rim and, frankly speaking, the pantry is largely dry in that regard. There’s only Mitchell and Burks. Rubio’s inability to shoot accurately from either long range or at the rim has been devastating. Hood managed to get eight free throw attempts tonight, making all eight, which is encouraging after 10 attempts against the 76ers. But he rarely gets attempts at the rim, particularly off his own dribble. Joe Ingles is increasingly trying to break the paint but simply doesn’t have the speed or explosiveness to do so effectively. Utah’s inability to threaten the rim off the dribble is allowing opposing defenses to give the Jazz only the shots they want Utah taking, and it’s strangling their ability to score. It won’t surprise me at all if Mitchell (36 minutes tonight) and Burks (22 minutes) gobble more and more playing time as the season goes along. Without at least one on the floor–and they played together several times tonight–the Jazz offense simply doesn’t threaten defenses.
  • It’s remarkable that clogging Gobert’s path in the pick and roll has become every defense’s top priority this season. Wise, certainly, given the Frenchman’s unreal offensive efficiency to close out last year. But that strategy has illustrated how limited Gobert’s offensive game still is. He made four of five free throw attempts tonight, a trend that is keeping him admirably efficient scoring-wise. But unless Gobert shows a willingness to take a completely open 15 foot jumper–which he’s been willing to do several times this season–defenses have schemed him in such as way as to make him a clog in the offense as often as a driver of it.
  • The Jazz’s ability to get the ball into the post is horrid. Truly horrid. Teams have little or no hesitancy to switch guards nearly a foot shorter and fifty-plus pounds lighter onto Favors because the team can rarely even enter the ball to him1. Given how much better Utah’s offense functions with an interior scoring threat, be that off the dribble penetration or cuts or in any form, they should be trying to get such switches onto Favors and punishing them. Now, they’re lucky not to turn the ball over in such situations.
  • The team really misses Joe Johnson’s ability to get his own bucket.
  • Snyder is searching for lineups that can win games right now. It’s hard to overstate how notable it is that Hood, the team’s universally acknowledged primary scorer entering the season, was moved to the bench only ten games into the season. But just as telling, if not as obviously so, is the fact that Snyder chose to play Ingles at power forward to close the game along with Mitchell, Burks, and Hood. No Rubio. What Snyder planned to do this year hasn’t been working, to be frank. Now he’s looking for something to replace that. Thus far, he hasn’t found it.

This is a team that is playing poorly and is clearly aware of it, and that pressure is compounding the difficulty. They’ll try to right the ship tomorrow against the Nets.

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.

2 Comments

  1. John Jenkins says:

    Spot on Clint. Some of this has to reside with Coach Snyder. The lack of entry passes to the post players is appalling and says a lot about the wings and guards. The Jazz rely on too much one v one off of picks and too little ball movement. Ending a game with Burks, Mitchell, Gobert, Ingles, and Hood says way to much about the team and the coach. Cutting Joel Bolomboy was a mistake. If you are going to keep O’Neal play him, at this point what can it hurt. Rubio has to wake up and play a point guard game.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I understand the difficulties of post entry passing, especially on a collapsed defense, and that Utah simply has shaky shooters throughout much of the roster. But I think there are unused shots this offense can get–Favors post touches or corner threes, Gobert free throw jumpers, wing pick and roll action after an initial action–that are better shots than much of what they get now. They need to make these viable shots in the offense to change defenses’ ability to collapse.

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