Yes, the Jazz had a nine point lead halfway through the fourth quarter Tuesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, one of the NBA’s best teams. And, yes, they ended up losing by four points, after Rudy Gobert twisted an ankle, LeBron James woke up and Mo Williams cashed in on his deal with the devil.
So, the Jazz’ 118-114 loss must be disappointing, right?
But, in many ways, I think this was the Jazz’ best game this season.
I had been fairly unconvinced by the team’s 4-2 start, even as the team was leading the Northwest Division and ranked atop in the league in defensive efficiency. Much of that was due to a pretty weak schedule, with possibly only one or two playoff teams among the team’s first six opponents.
But playing the Cavs tough on the road — in a game the Jazz may have won easily had not Mo Williams scored 29 on only 9 field goal attempts? In a game in which the refs’ shaky decision-making (Cleveland shot 43 free throws while Utah shot only 28) affected the outcome?
That gave me confidence moving forward.
There was much to like in the Jazz close loss, such as good offensive games from Burks and Burke, who scored 24 and 16 off the bench. The team’s amazingly well-balanced scoring attack — six players scored between 15 and 24 points. And an offense that moved the ball decisively and had 30 assists, a season high.
So let’s not mourn this loss, despite a few bad breaks.
Here’s a few other takeaways from tonight’s fun game:
- Don’t overreact to one half: “Staggering” has been a hot topic among NBA junkies lately, after an article in Nylon Calculus showed the importance of making sure that a team’s always has one of its best players on the floor. And in the first half, it felt like Coach Quin needed some staggering advice. For a key four-minute stretch, the Jazz played their entire bench — Burke, Burks, Ingles, Booker and Lyles — and Cleveland made a quick run. Lyles, for examples, was minus-8 in just four first half minutes. A close game turned into an 11-point Cleveland lead. Surely, the Jazz can make certain, for example, that they always have either Gobert or Favors on the floor.And then, in the second half, the Jazz did just that. Snyder pulled Gobert early, so that he was ready to join the second unit. And that bench group played much better, staying very close to the Cavs late in the 3rd and early in the 4th before the Jazz took their late lead.
Some other quicker observations:
- Yes, Joe Ingles is shooting the ball very well this year: Absurdly well. Before going 1-2 tonight, he was shooting .583 from the field, .467 from 3-point, and had a TS% of .744, which hilariously was third in the NBA, ahead of Stephon Curry. That’s, um, great. But for Jose English to really help the Jazz offense while he’s on the floor, he needs to pull the trigger a bit more often. Before last night’s game, he was shooting fewer than eight FGs per-36-minutes, one of the lowest marks in all the league. His usage rate leaves him 55th of 58 NBA small forwards. Joe, while you’re hot, fire away!
- Raul Neto’s game so far has surprised me: I expected a Ricky Rubio-lite: A guard with a great handle who would dish like mad, but struggle to shoot. Instead, Neto has shot fairly well (not as well the last few games) but was only averaging 3.4 assists per-36, low for a PG. But against Cleveland, Neto had several nifty assists, finishing with five in just 13 minutes. More of that, please!
- Trevor Booker had some nice hustle plays, and did a few things well in the second half, but he’s having a pretty bad season. The worst is his shooting, where he’s firing away at a nearly unimaginable .273 from the field and has yet to even attempt a free throw in 126 minutes, which is hard to do. And he’s the team’s first big off the bench, averaging nearly 20 minutes per game. At what point does Snyder see what Withey or Pleiss has to offer? Play Hood or Hayward or Ingles more at the 4?
- Mo Williams? I have an aversion to a particular kind of Jazz player from the past: Mediocre to OK vets who played lots of minutes on teams going nowhere. So my Mount Rushmore of Jazzmen who I just didn’t care for includes Raja Bell, Richard Jefferson and……. Mo Williams! (Of course, this is totally unfair. It’s not those guys’ fault they were played. But fandom is inherently irrational) When Williams was 30 with the Jazz, he had a PER of 14.
And, now, he’s 33. And? He currently as a PER of over 17 before Tuesday’s absurdly great game: 29 points on 8-9 FGs, 4-4 3-point FGs and 9-10 FTs. And six rebounds and six assists. Undoubtedly, LeBron’s fourth quarter brilliance aside, Mo Williams was why the Jazz lost tonight. Aaarrrrggghhhhh.
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