Jazz Once Again Stall Out as Hawks Surge to a Win

January 23rd, 2018 | by Dan Clayton

(Scott Cunningham via hawks.com)

The struggles continue for the slumping Utah Jazz, whose latest misstep came in the form of a blowout loss to the league-worst Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta guard Dennis Schröder carved through the passive Jazz defense for 20 points, and his team broke away with a late third-quarter run on the way to a 104-90 shellacking.

The loss marked the latest in a string of disappointing performances for Utah, which has gone 6-17 since early December. The defeat, along with similar recent losses to lottery-bound teams like New York and Charlotte, pulls the Jazz further from the playoff picture and raises existential questions.

Those question, as they have all season, start with Utah’s spacing-challenged starting group. Since Rudy Gobert’s return from injury, the Jazz have returned to the starting combo of Gobert and Derrick Favors, a rare tandem of traditional big men. With Ricky Rubio still struggling on offense and two non-shooting bigs, the Jazz often find themselves dribbling and passing around a group of defenders lining the paint area. That problem was evident during Utah’s ice cold 0-for-10 start. Rubio missed five early ones, and Gobert blanked on his first three attempts, all at the rim.

But in this particular game, that group wasn’t chiefly responsible for letting the contest get away from the 19-28 Jazz. The five starters — that trio plus Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles — actually recovered from their errant early shooting and played roughly even with the Hawks in their 13 minutes together. The group was outscored by a bucket, 19-21. The team as a whole improbably stayed close despite looking off-kilter on the attack. Tight defense led to an off night for Mitchell, whose 13 points were his fewest in a game since Christmas, and yet remarkably, the Jazz were within a point (60-61) with three minutes to play in the third.

That’s when all hell broke loose. Over the next 10 minutes — from 3:00 in the third to 5:00 in the fourth — Utah just couldn’t stop a frisky Hawks team. At one point the Hawks scored on 15 of 18 possessions, part of a 34-9 run that put the game beyond Utah’s reach. Eight different Hawks scored during the dominating stretch, but Schröder and rookie John Collins did most of the damage. The former bookended the run with a driving floater and a free-throw trip and had six of his 20 as the Hawks took control, while the young big man Collins scored eight during that stretch, his only points of the game. Atlanta hit on 75 percent of its shots during that span, 67 percent of its threes, and a perfect 6-for-6 from the line.

Alec Burks had 17 off the bench for Utah. Favors and backup guard Raul Neto each scored 11.

Here are some other observations from the Jazz’s rough Monday night.

Hard Homecoming

The all-time leading scorer in Philips Arena returned to his former office on Monday, but hardly looked the part of a former franchise great.

Joe Johnson enjoyed six of his seven All-Star seasons as a Hawk, but his homecoming was a… different story. The future Hall of Fame candidate scored a couple of buckets, and once again had trouble staying in front of his guy, whether he was screened or not.

I detailed some of Joe’s defensive woes in a video thread over the weekend, and some of those same areas of concern showed up in Atlanta. But the former Hawk also stopped the flow of the offense more than once, and he didn’t really help much as a rebounder or passer (one board, one assist).

In fact, one could pretty accurately tell the story of the game as a function of who was at the four for Utah. The visitors were outscored by two while Favors played power forward next to Gobert — not ideal against the lotto-bound Hawks, but at least in the ballpark of acceptable. They were a +5 in Jonas Jerebko’s minutes at PF, some of which came during garbage time. But they were a staggering minus-17 in Joe Johnson’s 16 minutes and change. It’s not a new trend, either. Joe’s minus-12 net rating for the season isn’t just a team-worst mark; it’s one of the five worst in the entire league for a player with his minutes.

Which leads to a conundrum as it related to the Armadillo Cowboy. Playing him isn’t helping the Jazz if their primary goal is to play quality basketball and win games. Playing the 37-year-old also isn’t helping if the Jazz have shifted their focus to developmental minutes for their youngsters. So why exactly is Joe playing?

Look, Johnson’s playoff heroics last spring will forever cement him as one of the most meaningful short-term free agent pick-ups the Jazz have ever made. But age or a slump or some crazy voodoo hex has caught up with him, and he no longer really fits what the Jazz are trying to do — whether that’s win now or start preparing their guys for next season.

Rudy Awakening

Gobert’s averaging 15 & 10 in his three games since returning from knee rehab, but in some ways he still doesn’t look quite like himself. He looks concerned and uncomfortable in a crowd, and the result, on Monday at least, was some awkward pick-and-roll finishes, and he still isn’t reacting really well to contact. He boarded well and block three shots.

That said, Gobert will likely be fine after he gets his rhythm back and the edge comes off of his post-injury trepidation about contact. Ultimately, this probably represents a plus for the Jazz, because they’ll get a bit of a lift when the big man inevitably gets it back. It certainly doesn’t help him to roll into a crowded paint because of Utah’s spacing issues, but it’s a safe bet that he’ll look significantly less skittish with each passing game.

Quick Hitters

  • We’re running out of clever ways to talk about the continues malaise of Rubio on offense. His five straight misses were part of a 1-for-8 night overall.
  • The game was also a homecoming for Quin Snyder, a former assistant to Hawks hoop boss Mike Budenholzer. Favors has never played for the Hawks but is an Atlanta native and a Georgia Tech product.
  • Despite Atlanta being considered Utah Jazz East for a while, no current Hawks have made a stop in Utah. Taurean Prince, who started and scored 17 points, was originally a Jazz draft pick who had his rights transferred to Atlanta in exchange for erstwhile Jazz guard George Hill.

Utah’s road trip continues on Wednesday night in Detroit. The Jazz then head across the border for a bout with the Toronto Raptors on Friday.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

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