Jazz Grind to 92 – 88 Win in the Grindhouse

February 7th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

Utah’s Rudy Gobert (27) watches Memphis interim head coach JB Bickerstaff complain to the referees after being ejected in the Jazz’s 92 – 88 victory over the Grizzlies in Memphis. (Mark Weber/The Commercial Appeal)

Story of the Game

Yuck.

While the Utah Jazz entered the night on a six-game win streak thanks to their offense, which averaged 128 points per game in their last four contests, tonight it was their defense, and putrid offense by the Memphis Grizzlies, that extended the win streak to seven.

The first half was a unique brand of awful, with each team shooting under 40 percent from the field, under 30 percent from three, and turning the ball over 11 times. Each team dry-heaved its way up and down the court, leaving the burden of scoring all but exclusively to their two offensive orchestrators: Utah’s Ricky Rubio, who scored 16 in the half, and Memphis’s Marc Gasol, who scored 13.

The Grizzlies, who came into this game off a four-loss road trip, must have entered the locker room feeling optimistic down only 44 to 39. Jazz Coach Quin Snyder likely felt nauseous.

While the second half was far from beautiful basketball, each team did increase its offensive efficiency. Utah shot the ball at a 45 percent clip while Memphis surprised by reaching 49 percent. Yet the physical and foul-tempered – and littered – game was ultimately decided by free throws as the Jazz made 17 of 21 attempts from the line in the second half alone. The refereeing clearly frustrated the Grizzlies, and interim head coach JB Bickerstaff and Dillon Brooks were ejected late in the game. 

Combined with Rubio’s 29-point night, those freebies were enough for Utah to limp to the finish line.  

Despite winning their seventh consecutive game – with five of the six coming on the road! – the Jazz certainly don’t feel pleased with how they played tonight. But Memphis is a team in misery right now. If it makes them feel any better, anyone who watched this game feels pretty miserable too.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Ricky Rubio (29 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 2 threes, 11 free throws)

If Quin Snyder was assured that one of his players would score 29 on 16 shots every night, he’d take it in a heart beat. Rubio continued his transformed season as an on-again then off-again offensive powerhouse, scoring his ninth game of 20 or more this season. The Jazz have won every one. However, tonight was a far cry from Rubio’s all-around brilliance recently. His three assists were his fewest since January 15th against Indiana and were indicative of Utah’s horrendous offensive struggles against the Grizzlies’s defense.

Secondary Star: Rodney Hood (18 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound, 8 free throws)

The only player to reach double figures in points other than Rubio, Hood did something he has tried, and mostly failed, to do previously this season: counterbalanced a cold night from deep (no makes on five attempts) with a parade to the free throw line where he nailed all eight attempts. That allowed him solid offensive efficiency on his 12 field goal attempts despite not making a single three. He’ll need to make that a regular part of his game to reach the consistency expected out of a high-volume offensive option.

Secret Star: Raul Neto (8 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist)

Neto continued his strong shooting on the season, making all three of his attempts from the field, including his only attempted three. No one came out of this night looking pretty, but Neto did manage to put together a solid statistical night1 in addition to a plus-seven mark on the evening, solid all-around impact from the bench. 

Stats of the Game

50 – Points in the paint scored by both teams combined. Utah by themselves average over 42 this season.

23 – Points scored by Andrew Harrison, a career high that looked like it just might be enough to cost Utah the game.

14 – Jazz assists, the team’s fifth lowest total of the season. It’s the only game all year they won with fewer than 16 assists.

92.6 – Utah’s defensive rating, an impressive number if one doesn’t consider the limitations of the offense they shut down.

17 – Bench points for Memphis, a 20-point disadvantage when stacked up against Utah’s second unit.

17 – Jazz advantage in free throw attempts. Their 33 more than doubled up Memphis’s 16 – in a game played in Memphis!

Sundries

  • While it certainly isn’t anything to worry about, it is worth noting that Donovan Mitchell has had his quietest two-game set since very early in the season. After scoring only two while still recovering from illness against the Pelicans, he scored 9 tonight on 12 shots and added only three rebounds and an assist. Rubio’s assertiveness in the offense has taken Mitchell off-ball more often than previously this season, and tonight they probably could have used more of his offensive creation. It’s worth watching how Mitchell and Rubio’s shot totals play out in games remaining before the All-Star break.
  • With Mike Conley out, WOW is Memphis bad. They really deserve to be known as Marc Gasol and Sum Dudes. Given their talent level, they actually played a good game tonight – a fantastic one if measured by energy. Yet a lackluster effort by the Jazz was still enough to win without any true nervousness, and on the Grizzlies home court. 
  • Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors did their defensive jobs, combining for 20 rebounds, two steals, and three blocks while locking down the paint. However, they combined for only nine field goal attempts on the night and scored only 10 combined points, eight of those coming from Gobert. 
  • Alec Burks is once again out of the rotation, having been surpassed by Royce O’Neale given the rookie’s recent play. While O’Neale wasn’t much of a factor today, the team was plus-nine with him on the floor, so don’t expect his minutes to decrease.
  • Utah’s 17 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter kept this from being a real nail-biter late. Memphis managed to outscore Utah 25 to 24 in the quarter even with the Jazz’s 14 made free throws. It’s not hard to understand the Grizzlies’s frustration with the officiating given this was, after all, one of their home games.

While Utah’s raging march toward playoff position slowed to a drunken stumble tonight, they did continue to move forward. Seven straight victories, their longest streak of the season. Whatever changes tomorrow’s trade deadline brings2 and the buyout stretch thereafter3, the Jazz have gone from extreme dark horse in the post season race to a stealth favorite, all in the last two weeks. 

Friday at home, they will try to keep their rush toward playoff position going full bore against the Charlotte Hornets. 

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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