Like a lot of things in Florida, this was (almost) too close to call.
No, not hanging chads, just some really good basketball, as Miami held off Utah, 92-91. Here are some quick themes, thoughts and figures from Utah’s fourth loss.
It seems so trite to even try and sum up Favors’ night in stats when he was so much better than a collection of integers. Except that those integers were 25-12-2-7-3. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.) Per basketball-reference.com, that’s just the 19th time since 1985-86 that a player has hit those levels, and just the sixth time someone did it on the road. The other five times: Hakeem (three times), Larry Nance and the Admiral. Whoa.
Favors was just the best player on the floor tonight, period. On offense, he went wherever he wanted to go, just pounding his way to 25 points, including shooting 8-for-12 with a defender on him. He was just a bully, in the best possible way.
On defense, he reminded people just how silly Utah’s embarrassment of defensive riches is. No Rudy Gobert, you say? No worries, Favors will stifle in the Stifle Tower’s absence, protecting the paint, blocking a career high seven shots and holding opponents to a Rudy-esque 29% around the rim. But again, numbers undersell him, because you had to watch to understand just how important he was defensively. He shut down Hassan Whiteside and made the lane a war zone, but when the Heat went small with Bosh and McBob, Favors is also the guy who allows you to switch everything. He’s unreal sometimes, and this was one of those nights that it’s almost hard to believe how overlooked Favors is on this team.
Hayward found ways to score despite shooting troubles. Early in the game, that meant fighting his way to the line. In the first quarter when the Jazz couldn’t score, Gordon earned himself eight free throws and sunk them all. Without him, the Jazz are down 20 in the first half and probably never in this one.
As discussed in the second installment of the weekly Salt City Seven, Hayward is getting schemed for at every stop. Tonight was no different. Miami’s kryptonite of choice was a bit different from what he saw in Cleveland; they didn’t trap him or even switch a lot. They relied on Luol Deng and Justise Winslow to keep him out of the paint, and the screener’s man usually moved laterally (as opposed to jumping out at him) to allow those guys a beat to recover. This meant they were fine giving Gordon the 20-foot pull-up, but when that’s the only shot you’ re really being allowed, it’s going to be a rough night, percentage-wise. He still managed 24-11-3, and has now averaged 20 a game in the last four.
Burks has become a go-to scorer and ball-handler down the stretch, which in itself is kind of amazing. Tonight he turned eight fourth-quarter possessions into 10 points, which is pretty good for a road crunchtime performance. He didn’t have a second-half assist, which is a little weird, especially since a few times he dribbled into triple teams and had the ball deflected. But overall, he had a “wow” fourth quarter, including this doozy.
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) November 13, 2015
Those three scored 73 of Utah’s 91. With even a little bit more help, Utah would have come away with a win.
No matter where you look after those three, the dropoff is fast, furious and cost the Jazz the game. In fact, outside the Fav-G-Burks trio, the rest of the Jazz combined for 23.5% from the field and 1-for-13 on uncontested jumpers. If anybody had gotten it going just a little bit more, the Jazz win.
Rodney Hood had some nice moments, including a couple of very controlled moves in the paint for short buckets. But overall, he was 4/14, didn’t help much on the glass, and continues to struggle to convert threes in a game.
The shooting that has made Trey Burke such a valuable off-the-bench sniper abandoned him tonight. He didn’t make a three and shot 33% overall. He also had weakside defensive breakdowns and at least two times when he got so turned around while guarding in the open court that his back was to the ball. One of those resulted in a pretty unforgivable coast-to-coast layup for Tyler Johnson to end a quarter.
Joe Ingles played the part of matador way too often in this one, letting even bigger guys slide right by him. Raul Neto was scoreless and foul-happy, and has taken a grand total of two free throws in eight games.
And once again, the backup big men left quite a bit to be desired…
The Jazz were +11 with Favors tonight, which is awesome, and shows his value on both ends. But it also means that they were -12 in the 8:15 when Favors rested. There’s your ball game.
This is obviously a function of the options Utah has at its disposal when Favors sits. The worst rotation Jazz men in box plus minus coming into tonight were, by far, Trevor Booker and Trey Lyles. It really looked in October like the Jazz had a deep, capable complement of rotation-quality big men behind Favors and Gobert, but it hasn’t played out that way.
Utah gets beat by 30 points per 100 possessions with Lyles on the floor, which is somewhat to be expected for a rookie, but painful nonetheless when the rest of the rotation is playing net positive basketball. Booker’s not playing any better, with a 26% shooting clip, an unwillingness to launch the open threes the team implores him to take, and a failure to get to the line for a single free throw to date.
The Jazz do have options in Tibor Pleiss and Jeff Withey, but let’s not forget that those two have ostensibly been outplayed by Booker and Lyles in practice to find themselves out of the rotation. So I question how much of a difference they can really make, although at some point you have to decide to try something, anything.
Whatever the solution is, Utah needs better play at the backup big spots, even when both Gobert and Favors are healthy. When either one of them is out, the need is just exacerbated.
This is about as impressive an 0-2 road trip as they come… but it’s still 0-2.
Still, Miami is solid both defensively and offensively, so taking them to the final minute in their gym is a pretty good signal that you’re ready to win games. We know this stretch would cost the Jazz, but eventually the piper’s going to have to pay them back with home games and easy opponents. When that happens, I suspect the effort that we saw in Cleveland and Miami will result in wins adding up rather quickly.
“We’ve played some of the best teams in the NBA, on the road, and played really well and really hard,” Quin Snyder told 1280 The Zone. “To be where we were tonight and to be where we were against Cleveland says a lot about how hard these guys are playing.”
That’s not to say that losing is OK, or even that the Jazz should take comfort in so-called moral victories. They’re past the point in their ascent back to relevance where they stand to gain anything by patting themselves on the back for coming close. What these losses serve to do is show the Jazz the difference between where they’re at and where veteran, proven, tested teams are when a game hangs in the balance and it’s winning time.
23.5% – That was Utah’s three-point percentage. They came into the night as the third-best three-point shooting team in the league, but learned firsthand how good Miami is at closing out to shooters.
28.6% – Their percentage on shots with no defender within 3.5 feet. That’s extremely fluky, and the fact that Utah missed 25 open shots and lost by only one point tells me they’ll be fine when they solve some minor timing issues. As Hayward said after the game, “We got the shots we wanted, we just didn’t get the chance to knock them down.”