Jazz Out-grind the Grizzlies 82 – 73

December 18th, 2016 | by Clint Johnson
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(AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)

Story of the Game

Aesthetically, this was the athletic equivalent of watching two drunks pound each other with pillowcases full of doorknobs.

Utah’s 46 percent shooting from the field doesn’t begin to communicate how abortive the Jazz offense felt all night, largely because the number is salvaged by the team’s torrid run to close out the game. Excepting Utah’s 16-point burst in the final four minutes of the game, the Jazz’s offensive struggles become clearer: 43 percent from the field, 17 percent from three, and 56 percent from the free throw line.

But anything Utah couldn’t do, Memphis couldn’t do even worser – and yes, that term is grammatically correct in this circumstance. Memphis ended the night shooting 30 percent from the field and less than nine (!!!) from three point range. It’s the second-worst display of accuracy from long range by any NBA team this season, bested only by Detroit’s horrendous 1 of 19 debacle on the road in Oklahoma City.

Despite this record-setting futility – the Grizzlies set a franchise record with 21 missed threes – the game felt like one they could easily win and so should be counted an impressive Jazz victory. Utah’s long, deep, and athletic defensive squad can win games playing Memphis’ patented grit-and-grind style, but the veteran Grizzlies enjoy such slogs where the young Jazz clearly do not. The bumping, and shoving, and holding energizes them, as clearly illustrated by their 19 to five domination of the Jazz on the offensive glass. Utah presses through such physical play much better than in the past, yet Memphis feeds on it.

But when Marc Gasol and Mike Conley go seven of 38 from the field, an offense really on has to play for roughly a quarter to beat Memphis. The Jazz offense did that in the first 6:50 of the first quarter, shooting seven of 12 from the floor, and making five of eight, including four threes, in the last four minutes of the game. Combined with Utah’s defensive prowess and the Grizzlies putrid shooting, that was enough.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Rudy Gobert

Much has been said of Gobert’s seasonal triumphs over high-profile opposing centers such as DeMarcus Cousins and Hassan Whiteside. The nearest thing to an exception had been Marc Gasol, who scored 22 points and got Gobert in almost immediate foul trouble in Utah’s home loss to Memphis earlier in the year. Consider that corrected. Tonight, Gobert outplayed Gasol in every way a team expects from a center, outscoring him by 13 on 13 fewer shots1, out-rebounding him by five, and turning in three blocks to Gasol’s zilch2. Given that Quin Snyder said the Jazz considered Gasol the best player in the entire league recently, such domination is even more impressive.

Secondary Stars: Gordon Hayward, Boris Diaw

Hayward was unable to ever drive Utah’s offensive engine into high-octane territory but made up for that with a truly impressive all-around game: 22 points on 13 shots, including 4/7 from three and 8/9 from the free throw line, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks. The all around contribution – especially on the defensive end of the floor, the assists, and his needed makes from the free throw line – really outweighed the importance of his bulk scoring, which benefited from six points on late threes.

Diaw, meanwhile, showed himself the only Jazz player capable of upsetting Memphis’ defense by doing other than expected. He scored six first-quarter points3 on aggressive drives to the hoop and hit the biggest shot in the game, a three pointer to break a 66 all tie and give the Jazz the lead for good. His game was well-rounded as always, including six rebounds and three assists, but it was his scoring from unexpected quarters in pivotal times that most changed the contest.

Secret Stars: Shelvin Mack

Mack has become perhaps the most contentious player of debate among Jazz fans this season due to his ascension over Dante Exum in minutes and roll, particularly in the absence of George Hill. But during Utah’s recent 11 and 2 romp through the league, Mack has simply outplayed Exum, averaging better than 9 points a game on 48 percent shooting from the field and 36 percent accuracy from three, while adding nearly 4 assists and 3 rebounds in 26 minutes of play. That trend included tonight, where Mack contributed 10 of the 18 Jazz bench points along with 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 steal. Most importantly, he was the only Jazz bench player with a positive plus-minus of +8.

Stats of the Game

7 of 38 – Gasol and Conley’s combined shooting. Even though this was included above, it bears repeating: Marc Gasol, the Western Conference’s reigning Player of the Week, and Mike Conley, the recipient of the largest contract in NBA history, combined to make SEVEN out of THIRTY EIGHT field goal attempts, at HOME, against the Jazz. That’s 18 percent. That’s grotesque and, for Jazz fans and one French Rejection, delicious.

19 – Grizzlies’ offensive rebounds. Ten came in the fourth quarter alone as Memphis, realizing it may well lose a game played at its preferred style, simply out-worked and out-hustled the Jazz, regardless of who was on the court. They only manged to turn those chances into 15 second-chance points, largely because even when Gobert and Favors couldn’t corral rebounds early in the fourth Memphis players couldn’t get off quality shots over Utah’s length.

11 – Jazz blocks. 4 by Favors (in 14 minutes!), 3 each by Gobert and Hayward, and 1 by Trey Lyles, who is becoming something of a shot blocking threat as a help defender so long as he gets a running start.

93 to 66 – Shot advantage for Memphis, the product of offensive rebounds and seven fewer turnovers than the Jazz. It’s hard to fathom how a team can get nearly 50 percent more attempts at the hoop than an opponent and still lose a game.

Sundries

  • The Grizzlies make an offense feel pressure. Not only do they contest shots, but they swat and poke at dribblers, clog passing lanes, play body-on-body better than any team in the league, hold, grab, tug, shove, and generally foul way more than the many fouls they have called on them, and deliberately leave players who don’t want to be open to shoot wide open. The combined effect is a anxious pressure on offensive players that makes it hard to realize there are quite a few open shots available. Rodney Hood, Exum, Lyles, and Joe Ingles missed all 13 of their combined three point attempts, many of which were open. Those players should combine to hit four of those attempts, at least.
  • While the Jazz are rolling right now, their youngest contributors aren’t. Exum and Lyles4 combined for 0 points on 5 shots in 24 combined minutes. Each had a pass slip through his hands and out of bounds while trying to decide what to do before catching the ball. With Favors returning from injury and Hill likely to return in the not-too-distant future, Utah’s young prospects will have to push through inconsistencies and doubt in fewer minutes. Tough order.
  • Rodney Hood was a plus-24 on the night despite missing all eight of his three point attempts.  That would not have happened last season and can be attributed to his determination to go hard to the hoop and take points when his jumper isn’t falling. All five of Hood’s made field goals on the night came in the paint.
  • Aaron Harrison, Memphis’ back up point guard, shot 1 of 7 and was plus-14 on the night. What a weird game.

Next up: Utah takes its four-game win streak on the road Tuesday against the Warriors squad of super golden wonder friends (one of whom may well kick you in the crotch).

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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