Well. That didn’t go so well. I guess after five games you just get used to your team wining. Unfortunately for the Jazz, the Thunder came in with a hefty chip on their shoulder. Apparently they didn’t appreciate being embarrassed on their home floor a few weeks ago, and they stormed into Salt Lake to return the favor. I sat on my couch for about 20 minutes after the game wondering what went wrong… I’m certainly not one to panic, especially after a well fought loss to a good Western Conference team, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t disappointed. Here are some of my morning-after thoughts:
- I love Kevin Durant. He seems like a good person, and he’s got the silkiest shot, but when the Jazz play him all I can think is that “this must be what it was like for opposing fans to watch John Stockton.” He just plays so… well, so dirty. He was drawing players into the backcourt at full speed, only to cut back & slam into them (CJ), he was baiting refs into ugly calls, he throws elbows, and he actually threw a leg out to trip another player (AK). It was borderline unwatchable. To an OKC fan, these are all veteran moves, but to an opposing fan (like me) it just comes across as dirty.
- The Jazz’ victory against the Bobcats was largely attributable to Charlotte’s horrible free throw shooting (17-24). Conversely, this game against the Thunder was lost (for the Jazz) at the free throw line. You’re not going to beat a good Thunder team by putting them at the line for 34 freebies… especially when OKC hits 33 of those 34 shots.
- I’m really not one to complain about refs. I firmly believe that if you lose consistently as a result of the refs, then you don’t deserves the wins. Good teams win in spite of the refs. That being said, the refs didn’t do the Jazz any favors last night. The Jazz played well in the first half, but they let the Thunder overtake them in the second, and between the inability of the Jazz to execute their offense, make key stops, or get any reasonable calls, they could never get over the hump.
- Playing in the Western Conference is insanely brutal. Spurs, OKC, Lakers, Portland, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, New Orleans, Golden State… even the Clippers are tough. There are no nights off. It’s awesome from a fan perspective, but it’s brutal out there for the players. The team can’t overlook ANYONE.
- The Jazz missed Raja on defense. The rotations looked painfully slow at times, which gave the Thunder a lot of open looks at the perimeter. People recognize him as a defensive stopper, but his mere presence on the floor tightens up the entire ship. I know there’s been some complaints about his offensive production thus far, but I think most fans collectively underestimate how important his presence is on the defensive side of things.
- CJ is killing me. One game he’s a rainmaker, and the next he’s airballing 3’s. In the OKC game, he was dropping fade-away teardrops and putting up huge 19 footers, all while making heady vet moves. He’s an essential part of the second unit’s success. The team largely lives and dies by how CJ plays, and that’s terrifying given his volatility
- Ibaka was amazing tonight, and the Jazz didn’t have the defensive presence to handle him (I can’t believe I just wrote that). The team paid dearly for their lazy D, and it came in the form of Ibaka.
- Offensive production was weak from some of the key Jazz scoring options. Jefferson only hit a measly 5-14. The team can’t expect to beat good teams when their power pieces aren’t scoring.
- Earl Watson looked really, really good. I was excited to see how aggressive he was on offense, and how well he distributed the ball. I’m a Ronnie Price fan. I love his athleticism and heart, but I LOVE having a backup PG that I can trust. I’m starting to feel that way about Watson.
- During the Eastern Conference road trip, the Jazz played dangerously well down the stretch… so what was that last possession all about? Deron dribbled around mindlessly, hucked it to AK, who tossed up a crappy behind the head layup… I just sat in shock and confusion. Why such a stupid play to end it? Especially when they could have gotten a quick shot off and gotten the ball back one more time?
- OKC shot 71.4% in the third quarter. Yep. That stat happened.
- During the preseason I estimated that the Jazz would not be firing on all cylinders until mid December. I’m sticking with that, and during these early losses I have to remind myself NOT to get impatient. The Jazz will be fine… they’re still finding themselves and they’ve shown flashes of who they will become. The upside of this team is tremendous. I don’t remember the last time I felt like that.
- Bottom line? This game was a major let down. The team went on a massive Eastern Conference road trip where they played two back to backs and four great teams. They had four emotional wins, Deron was named Western Conference Player of the Week, and they came home on a mental high. Unfortunately, those types of trips can be dangerous, and create a false sense of security. Anytime a team is on that kind of high, it seems to overlook important aspects of the next game (in this case, defense). Tough loss, but it really just wasn’t the Jazz’ night.
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