Kawhi-less Raptors Dominate Jazz 124 – 111

November 5th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

Joe Ingles and the Utah Jazz were run over by the Toronto Raptors on their home court, 124 to 111. Ingles injured his finger on this play, and the Jazz left the night a wounded 0 – 4 at home. (Rick Bowmer/AP Photo)

Story of the Game

Last season, the Utah Jazz came to believe that their defense was stout enough to keep them in nearly any game, while their offence — though not consistently potent — had enough punch to put them over the top on just about any night. They belonged on the court with anyone.

Tonight’s 124 – 111 home loss to the Toronto Raptors, running Utah’s home winless streak to four, showed that right now this team doesn’t really believe much of anything good about themselves. 

It isn’t a lack of energy. The Jazz crackled onto the court tonight, defending like they had a sixth player on the floor and creating five Raptor turnovers in the first four minutes of the game. This fueled their offense, which resulted in a 31 – 30 lead at quarter’s end despite the Raptors shooting 68-percent from the floor.

But, in continuation of a perplexing fault that appears that it might sunder the Jazz’s aspirations for the season, Toronto’s offense continued to roll over the Jazz defense, even without Kawhi Leonard. Meanwhile, Utah’s offense fell off another cliff, one just as sheer as the one they plunged from in the brutal fourth quarter being outscored by 20 in Denver.

One couldn’t help but see it leave the Jazz, all of it, everything: energy; focus; belief in their ability to generate points and, painfully, to get stops.

In the second and third quarters, Toronto outscored Utah 64 to 41. 

The visitors were awesome, offensively and defensively, long and athletic and completely confident in their system and roster. In those same 24 minutes of play, the Jazz went from full effort and intent, to firing blanks and a defensive fugue, to offensive and defensive futility.

The game was over before the final quarter started.

Toronto is a good team. Likely better than the Jazz, even with Donovan Mitchell (ankle) swapped out in exchange for MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard. They had four players score 17 tonight. But the Jazz entered the season fully believing there was no team in the league they couldn’t beat.

Tonight there was a powerful sense that Utah wasn’t going to win this game, and worse, they had no idea how to change that. 

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Alec Burks (22 points on 11 shots, 3 assists, 2-3 threes, 6-6 free throws)

Take away Burks and the Jazz shoot 41-percent from the floor, 21-percent from three, and 60-percent from the free throw line. When his teammates appeared so incapable of scoring against the Raptor defense they didn’t even know what to attempt on offense, Burks was confident, comfortable, and efficient. He certainly looks deserving of more outings like tonight where he played 27 minutes.  

Secondary Star: Rudy Gobert (14 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 2-4 free throws) and Derrick Favors (11 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals, 2 blocks)

The lackluster start to the season has obscured that Utah’s two traditional bigs have combined for 27 points, nearly 21 rebounds, 3.5 blocks, and nearly two steals per game while shooting 62-percent from the floor. The problem is they’re only getting a combined 17 shots and their defensive prowess inside isn’t stopping teams from ripping up the defense by shooting better than 48-percent from the field. 

Secret Star: Royce O’Neale (11 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal)

O’Neale was Utah’s best player in the first quarter when the team was playing well. Not the most polished, but between his activity on both sides of the floor, certainly their best. In particular, he was a one-man nitrous oxide injection in the open court offense that quarter. His energy provided less and less return as Utah’s competence waned then disappeared through the horrid middle of this game, but when the Jazz competed he was their pace-setter. 

Stats of the Game

33/9/55 – Utah’s shooting percentage from the field, from three, and from the free throw line in the second and third quarters.

34.6 – The Jazz’s effective field goal rate in the middle two quarters, worse than any game from last season.

50 – Points scored by Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Serge Ibaka… on 32 shots.

27 – More free throws attempted by the Jazz (41) than Raptors (14). It’s remarkable that the disparity didn’t matter at all. 

Sundries

  • Last year I spent the first half of the season burying Ricky Rubio in this spot; in the second half, this become a shrine to his transformation that lifted the Jazz toward contender status. I think by now Rubio is a known quantity: he’s a great passer (nine assists tonight) whose passing doesn’t matter all that much to the Jazz in the great scheme of things, but his shooting matters immensely. When Rubio scores efficiently, Utah is really good. When he’s awful, like one of 10 tonight, he can single-handedly cost his team any chance at a win. The question is how often will each Rubio show up.
  • As a defender of Utah’s two-big commitment, one would expect I would be all in favor of Quin Snyder’s strategy to stress high passes to Utah’s bigs for easy scores this season. But from the beginning it made me nervous, and my fears have born out. Those are tough, precise passes to make, particularly off the dribble as is often required. Right now, the Jazz are turning the ball over at least as often as they get shots off those passes. 
  • Utah’s offense is missing two elements it must have:
    • 1) At least two pick and roll ball handlers — meaning Rubio, Mitchell, Ingles, and potentially Burks — must score efficiently in a game for Utah’s offense to play well. 
    • 2) At least two floor spacers — meaning Ingles, Jae Crowder, Mitchell, or Rubio — have to shoot threes efficiently in a game for Utah’s offense to play well.
  • Utah’s defense really lacks only one thing at present: forcing bad shots when players are in bad positions. What’s happened thus far this season is when opposing players are in a poor scoring position, they’re holding onto the ball (Utah isn’t turning them over) and eventually getting it to other players, too often cutters or players open beyond the three-point line. It happened a number of times tonight. In those moments, every Jazz defender needs to take ownership of his man and deny passing lanes, not rest and stare at the ball handler, which will induce players to take bad shots and foolish passes. 
  • As bad as things feel now, I can’t help but note how many odd circumstances have popped up this season. A last-second tip in by Jonus Jerebko for a loss. The corpse of Derrick Rose re-animating for a career high and a Jazz loss. Three brick-fests where the Jazz miss three in four threes, something they did 11 times last season (losing 10)1. I don’t believe the Jazz are a bad team; they’re just playing badly right now. But the longer this continues, the more one will have to wonder if the team everyone is seeing really is the team as they truly are.  
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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