Jazz Fall to Wolves 97 to 100 after Crazy Fourth

October 20th, 2017 | by Clint Johnson

(Matthew Weber / Pioneer Press)

Story of the Game

Entering the night, Ricky Rubio’s return to Minnesota was the story of the game. At the end of the night (at least for Jazz fans), the story was Rodney Hood’s exit due to injury – though Rubio almost eclipsed that as well.

Hood had a strong night going when he stepped on Karl-Anthony Towns’ foot fighting over a screen. While replay failed to show anything resembling significant injury, that appearance soon seemed deceptive as teammates carried Hood off the floor. Coming only two games into the season – and after already losing guard Dante Exum on opening night – the moment seemed a devastating refrain of the past few seasons past. Fortunately, reports soon came that appearances were worse than reality.

Without their anticipated primary scorer, on the road, against a team with elite talent (and huge expectations) in need of a win to avoid an 0 and 2 start, the Jazz played well enough to deserve to win this game. But Jamal Crawford is a career 41 percent shooter who will win his team two games a year by making an unconscionable number of bad shots in big moments. The Jazz happened to be the first of those games in 2017-18. Crawford went 6 for 7 in the fourth quarter scoring 15 points, including a corner three with 28 seconds left in the game – and with Thabo Sefalosha in his face – that effectively won the contest.

It wasn’t a bad loss, but if Hood misses much time or plays less than 100 percent for any stretch of the season, that will be.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Ricky Rubio

Rubio didn’t have the game he must have wanted in his return to Minnesota even beyond the loss. He had four turnovers, including some puzzling and unexpectedly slopping ball handling down the stretch that contributed to a truly wild fourth quarter. But he combined productivity – 19 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals – with a determination to win that nearly scraped out the game for the Jazz. Rubio alone took nine free throws in the fourth quarter, making eight. He did everything but will a win, hitting a three with three minutes left and then getting fouled on another three point shot with one minute left to tie the game. Earlier he kamikazed between two defenders in the open court to earn a clear-path foul. Only Crawford’s corner three at the end cost Rubio this win he so desperately tried to earn through guts as much as game.

Secondary Stars: Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors

Before exiting with his injury, Hood had continued the hot shooting he displayed in limited appearances in the preseason, notching 20 points in just under 24 minutes of play. He hit three triples in a dynamic third quarter burst that propelled Utah to a lead and was three for three from the stripe as well. Perhaps more encouragingly, he also dished out four assists, demonstrating a wider ability to orchestrate offense than he typically displayed. Hopefully, whatever time he may miss due to injury won’t throw him off rhythm.

For the second game in a row, Derrick Favors led the team in field goal attempts, taking 15 and turning that into 16 points. He added 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and a block (with a second that wasn’t scored to him). But it isn’t his scoring efficiency that deserve recognition so much as when and where he scored from. Favors’ 10 points in the fourth quarter kept the team in the game, and that includes making two of three jumpers from twenty feet at the top of the key. With Favors playing substantial minutes with Rudy Gobert through the first two games of the season, Favors’ ability to hit these jumpers will be huge for the offense’s spacing.

Secret Star: Ekpe Udoh

While Udoh played only 15 minutes on the night, he made them loud, blocking another three shots and grabbing four rebounds. That makes six block on the season and a noteworthy plus-36 in only 28 minutes played this year. He did struggle with Towns’ greater size and strength in the post, but when given the opportunity to move his feet Udoh is proving to be an impact defender both protecting the rim and hedging out near the perimeter. Jazz head coach Quin Snyder used Udoh as the team’s backup center for much of the night, keeping Favors at the power forward slot, an arrangement that will likely continue if Udoh continues to provide such defensive impact.

Stats of the Game

22 percent – Donovan Mitchell’s shooting percentage on the season after missing six of his seven field goal attempts against the Wolves.

4 of 5 – Joe Ingles three point shooting. Ingles has already hit seven three pointers this season.

14 – The amount Minnesota’s bench outscored Utah’s. Thabo Sefalosha scored nine points on perfect four for four shooting plus canned his only free throw. Outside of his output, Utah’s bench shot four of 18 (22 percent).

0 – Total Jazz players to reach 10 assists in a game last season. Ricky Rubio has done that in both games this season.

-29 – Rudy Gobert’s plus-minus rating after two games, worst on the Jazz. It’s too early to make much if anything of this, but it is interesting that Utah has outscored both opponents this season with Favors and/or Udoh on the floor but not with Gobert.

14 – The number of points Minnesota outscored Utah by with Nemanja Bjelica on the court. He only played 13 minutes. The Wolves really need shooting.

Sundries

– Because of Hood’s stomach problems the first game and injury this game, Utah closed out both contests with Gobert, Favors, and Sefalosha in the front court. Where Utah frequently chose to go small with Joe Johnson to close games last season, this year they’ve chosen to triple down on defense. They scored 28 fourth quarter points against Denver and added 32 tonight.

– Favors took one three point attempt tonight and it crashed violently off the glass. If he can shift his twenty footers back behind the line and make even one in three, it would completely change Utah’s offense. But while a single step for him in distance, that move back to the three point line seems a mental mile.

– Gobert and Udoh need to keep their hands up on the interior when Favors has the ball. With each in good scoring position, Favors hit each of them right in the torso with a touch pass this game. Neither had a clue the pass was coming until it bounced off their body and Minnesota was taking the ball down the court. Favors is showing some fine passing skills, especially on quick passes after the catch.

– Minnesota has no idea how they want to close games. Jimmy Butler failed to command the offense, just like Andrew Wiggins, and as good as Towns is he’s dependent upon getting the ball from other players like all true bigs. Reverting to let Crawford take any shot he wishes to win a game is a cop out with the offensive talent on that squad.

– The Jazz will struggle to get good three point attempts late in the shot clock off set plays this season. Joe Johnson actually got an open look at a three to tie this game but ended not fully rotating to face the hoop as he tried to get the ball off quickly. The problem is Hood is the only shooter who can elevate and release with someone in his face. Johnson doesn’t have the elevation. Ingles doesn’t have a fast enough release. Rubio is a combination of both problems in addition to being a mediocre three point shooter. Mitchell’s ability to elevate makes him a hypothetical candidate, but he’s shooting so poorly he isn’t a realistic option yet. Would Snyder give Alec Burks a try? This is something to watch this season: when the Jazz need a three, and the opponent knows they need a three, can they even get a respectable attempt?

The Jazz will seek to get back on track tomorrow against the NBA’s newest superteam, the Oklahoma City Thunder and reigning league MVP Russell Westbrook.

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. Tony says:

    While it wasn’t a bad loss, it was disappointing to lose it after they worked so hard to get back in. Rudy’s TO late was killer.

    But one positive I took from the game was how valuable Rubio’s FT shooting is going to be for Utah this year down the stretch. The last few years I’ve not been that confident in our ability to hit pressure FTs but Rubio is almost automatic. He dragged us into a winning position tonight from the line. And I think he will win more than a few games for the Jazz from the line this year.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Good take, Tony. I agree Rubio will be invaluable at the line. He’s always gotten there quite a bit. Hayward was very productive from the line as well, however, so I’m not sure I see a major net gain there. If Rubio can protect the ball a bit better than late last night though, he should be able to force defenses to defend well-orchestrated late offense without fouling. Hayward was a little too loose with the ball in winning time sometimes.

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