I’ll admit it… I didn’t think the Jazz would win this one. I knew they had the skill to beat Orlando, but after an improbable come-back in Miami, I didn’t really expect the Jazz to get back out there the following night and bring it against another Eastern Conference power. I was (gladly) wrong, and Jazz fans across the world are in a euphoric (and maybe confused) stupor today.
Here are some quick thoughts from last night’s victory in Orlando (set to LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out”)…
“I’ve been here for years.” Deron is amazing. At Miami he was spinning out of triple teams to feed Millsap, and in Orlando he was raising up silky smooth jumpers to seal the game. The man is playing out of his mind right now… distributing well, hitting the right shots at the right time, and just leading his team to hard-nosed, well fought victories. He knows that system, and fans are starting to see the ridiculous upside of this team as the other guys fall in line behind him.
“Mama Said Knock You Out:” Sloan preaches a pick & roll, open jumpshot, cut up the middle, lay-up drill, unrelenting system. People keep asking how the Jazz get back into these games, and “the system” is the answer. The flex allows a well executed offense to hang around through the inherent runs that NBA basketball produces. While iso/catch and shoot systems rely on low percentage shots falling, the flex relies on high percentage looks opening up. So far, Miami and Orlando (even the Clips) have had streaks of hot offense coupled with poor defense from the Jazz. These streaks create gaps in scoring, and make teams feel like they have control, but the flex is a lot like the tortoise in Aesop’s fables: It keeps moving at a methodical pace. As the Jazz’ defense warms up and opposing offenses flatten out, it’s the flex that keeps churning… eating away at leads, and eroding spreads.
“I’m gonna knock you out:” The Miami game was the worst thing that could have happened to the Orlando Magic. It gave the Jazz confidence in a compromising situation… even when they were down 18, they played like a team that knew it could get back in. They just came out, got to work, and showed Orlando what it was like to play Utah Jazz Basketball.
“Don’t you call this a regular jam.” How about that wacky man-zone the Jazz played in the third? If anyone’s ever questioned Sloan’s ability to coach, they need to watch that game. Not only did Sloan know when to call the zone up, but the team knew exactly how to execute, and it confused the Magic. The Jazz allowed cutting players space to run around, but as soon as those cutters broke to the perimeter, they was covered. When the covered man passed into the interior, the defense swarmed. There were no open looks, no easy baskets, and Orlando couldn’t break the defense in time to regain the ground they’d lost.
“The man of the hour.” Millsap was an absolute stud. Again. It wasn’t a 46 point performance, and it didn’t need to be. Right now Mansap is leading the team in points (23.9), rebounds (10.1) and in steals (1.3). I think a lot of Jazz fans thought that Millsap would produce similar numbers to Boozer, but not better. Well, so far he’s been a complete upgrade. It’s fantastic.
“Tower(s) of power.” Let’s talk centers for a second:
- Al Jefferson was legit (21 points on 10-16 shooting, 8 rebounds, and a block). He came out and showed that A) last night’s poor performance was a fluke, and B) that he could hang with the big-boy centers in the league.
- Fesenko. How much more comfortable does Fes look this year? I actually get excited when he gets the ball. Williams has done a good job of creating high percentage (high confidence) shot opportunities, but he’s also showing marked improvement controlling his body around the basket (including his MUCH improved defense). Besides that, he dwarfed Dwight Howard on the floor. My mind can’t comprehend the thought of having a serviceable, strong 7+footer, so I’m not going to talk too much about it, but man… this could be pretty cool if he continues to develop.
“And I’m just gettin’ warm.” Right now, the Jazz are looking pretty tough. They’re letting other GOOD teams have it, and they’re winning in style. However, as the season continues, they can’t rely on teams letting off the gas once they have the lead and letting them back into the game. Teams like the Lakers, Boston, and a matured Heat aren’t always going to give opposing teams those kind of opportunities. The Jazz need to open strong, stay strong, and grind it out. That’s the kind of basketball Sloan wants and that will ultimately succeed in a seven game series… and the Jazz are showing great promises of things to come.
“Competition’s payin’ the price.” That’s been true on this road trip. Opposing teams have overlooked parts of this Jazz team and they’ve been embarrassed. No more overlooking, though. If the Miami game didn’t do it, last night’s did… The Jazz are on people’s radar. You can’t go and sweep the Florida basketball scene on national TV two nights in a row and not raise some eyebrows. This is the moment the Jazz have been waiting for… time to seize it and prove that this is an elite team in the Western Conference.