Jazz Run Out of Gas in 4th in 94 – 100 OKC Defeat

December 5th, 2017 | by Clint Johnson

Donovan Mitchell’s (45) 31 points weren’t enough to overcome reigning league MVP Russell Westbrook’s (0) 34-points triple double. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Story of the Game

During Utah’s six-game win streak, the Jazz looked offensively unstoppable against a series of mediocre defenses. Oklahoma City, who entered the night third in the league in defensive rating, stopped that recent juggernaut with a six-point victory–but not without help from Utah’s tired legs.

This was a hard fought, well played game reminiscent of playoff competition. Both defenses controlled the action in the first half with energy, force, and deflections. Combined, the teams turned the ball over 25 times by halftime. But when Utah kept control of the ball, Utah’s ball movement proved faster than the Thunder’s frantic defense, generating 18 three point shots, many of them open. The Jazz made six, not the torrid pace of the previous six games but far better than Oklahoma City’s one of nine shooting from three. It was good for an eight point lead at the break.

In the third quarter both offenses made adjustments and shot the ball much better, the Thunder rising to 50 percent shooting but Utah did better, soaring to 60 percent accuracy. An additional four made threes–making a total of 10 for the game–moved Utah’s lead to 12.

It was a fierce game against an opponent playing as hard as they could at home, and the Jazz were getting the best of it. Then two things happened: tired legs gave out on the tough side of a back to back and Andre Roberson damaged Utah’s offensive machinery. It proved a cataclysmic combination.

Lifeless legs tried and failed to make the long range shots that had made Utah’s offense unstoppable of late, but Jazz shooters managed only one make on eight attempts in the quarter. They shot 30 percent overall, making only one shot away from the rim. Defensively, the just didn’t have the energy to play with the pressure, force, and active hands of the previous three quarters. Entering the fourth quarter, Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the two drivers of the Thunder offense, had combined for 13 turnovers. The Jazz only added one in the final period. Against such fatigued defenders, Oklahoma City’s talent steamrolled to 32 points on 57 percent shooting.

But arguably the most significant player in the Thunder comeback may not show in the stat sheet. Roberson changed the game with his ability to both shut down his own man and make impact plays as a help defender. With his energy and length, he completely changed the game. In what was a brilliant move, Billy Donovan put Roberson on Donovan Mitchell, making the rookie face off against an elite NBA defender taller and even longer than Mitchell.

The rookie fought hard, making three of six field goal attempts in the quarter and running his point total to 31, but he also turned the ball over several times in crucial circumstances. The Thunder used those turnovers to get some open court points, eventually taking the lead on a Westbrook fast break layup. The Jazz could never reclaim the lead they’d held all game. Roberson ended the night with game-high a plus-14.

If this isn’t the second game of a back to back, I think Utah wins this game. But it was, and that’s the NBA, and now Utah needs to bolster its offensive confidence. They only manged 94 points against one of the NBA’s leading defenses. Now they need to rest up and get back to the play that saw them scorching scoreboards, which they’ll need to win against better teams and on the road, two things they’ve yet to prove this season.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Donovan Mitchell

While Mitchell’s five turnovers weren’t great–some late in the fourth were killers–Utah would never have been in the position they were without his 31 points on 22 shots. He made another five of 12 from three (42 percent) and four of five from the free throw line (80 percent). He also produced four assists and a huge five steals, throwing in a single rebound. In Mitchell’s team-high 36 minutes, Utah outscored the Thunder by two. He’s now scored 20 or more points in five of his last six games.

Secondary Star: Joe Ingles

Ingles scored 16 points on 13 shots, including making four of 11 from three. But his night was much better before fatigue hit him as badly as any Jazz player late in the game. In the game’s final period he missed all four of his three point attempts. Before he ran out of gas, he had 14 points on four of seven from long range through three quarters.

Secret Star: Thabo Sefolosha

Sefolosha actually ended the night with Utah’s worst plus-minus at negative 14. But he is the last person who should be blamed given his stat line: 11 points on 8 shots, including a made three on two attempts, along with a team-high eight rebounds, four steals, and a block. He just keeps providing consistent contributions on both ends of the floor.

Stats of the Game

18 – Jazz assists. The last time they had so few was against the 76ers… the last time they lost a game.

9 – Utah’s disadvantage on the glass, including a devastating six offensive rebounds allowed to Steven Adams.

16 – Turnovers by the Jazz. This matches their total against Washington. They hadn’t turned the ball over that much in any of the previous 10 games.

0 – Assists by Gobert and Favors combined. The Thunder defensive game plan stopped everything the bigs do best as passers, and it really complicated the offense’s workings.

7 – Thunder bench points. Utah’s 26 far outstripped their opponent, but not as much as should have been the case. The bench shot nine of 27 (33 percent) and missed seven of eight three point shots, a number wide open.

Sundries

  • Oklahoma City’s defense was excellent tonight, both in their energy and preparation. I strongly suspect their tactics will be emulated by future Jazz opponents. Essentially, they worked extremely hard to stop Utah’s ball movement. They did this by trying to get Utah to give one of their bigs the ball near the top of they key and then to make the ball stick there by denying passes to the wings and fighting hard over screens. When the ball was passed to Gobert or Favors in the interior, they collapsed hard trying to steal the ball and then sold out recovering to the three point line, sometimes two or three times as the Jazz swung the ball around the perimeter. During the winning streak, these same passes earned loads of wide open three point shots. There were some tonight, but enough of those shots had a Thunder player’s hand in the shooter’s face to make Jazz shooters hesitate. Fatigue certainly played its part, especially late, when Utah simply couldn’t get enough player movement to produce a flowing offense. But the Thunder defense was a large reason as well. It will be interesting to see how the team counters these moves, perhaps by working on back doors and other hard cuts.
  • Last game I named Quin Snyder the superstar of the game and sang his praises as loudly as I could. Tonight, I’ll send a little criticism his way. In the fourth quarter with Roberson blanketing Mitchell, Snyder played Rubio from the quarter’s opening (Utah had a 12 point lead) to 2:35 left, at which point the team was down by one. With his players gassed and against defenders clogging up the offense’s motion, the team tried to rely on Mitchell to once again bail them out as he has frequently this season in isolation and by making tough pull ups off screens. But Roberson’s awesome defense created turnovers and a late blocked shot that essentially sealed the game. Meanwhile, Rubio missed his only shot on the quarter, an open corner three. Against stiff defense, the team needs a player who can create for himself and others. Asking Mitchell to do that against one of the league’s best wing defenders simply wasn’t smart when Burks was on the bench. He wasn’t shooting well this game (two of nine with both attempts from three missed) but he did get to the free throw line nine times, making seven. Rubio’s minus-six was the lowest among the starters’ plus-minuses. He gums up the offense, and tonight’s offense was already slogging in the fourth. Burks should have been in much earlier.
  • Steven Adams is a magnificent troll-man of a basketball player. He outplayed Utah’s bigs tonight with 20 points on only 10 shots and nine rebounds thrown in. I don’t know if anyone sets better screens than Adams–or gets away with more physical interference with screened players on his “roll to the hoop.” Both Gobert and Favors are excellent targets rolling to the hoop and solid screeners, but it would be nice to see them each learn to anchor with a mountain’s solidity to really wipe out a defender when needed, a la Adams. On nights like tonight, with Thunder defenders fighting hard over screens and denying the ball, those brick wall screens create needed space.
  • Utah got 33 three point attempts this game, which is exactly what they’re looking for. But Gobert and Favors shot the ball only 11 times combined, the same number as against the Wizards. That’s too few shots for players so efficient near the rim. The team will need to find a way to get these two a few more looks near the hoop, particularly when teams are flying around the perimeter closing out on threes the way the Thunder did.

The Jazz will look to regroup after their first loss in December. They’ll need to, because their Thursday home contest with the scorching Rockets will start a sequence where they play Houston twice as well as Cleveland, Boston, and Milwaukee all in the next six games, with all those except Thursday’s game on the road.

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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