Pels-Jazz Notebook: Johnson’s Strong Game Can’t Save Jazz from Monster Duo

January 4th, 2018 | by Steve Godfrey

Via ESPN.com

After Donovan Mitchell’s 29 points helped the Jazz spoil LeBron James’ birthday on Saturday night, Utah fell short in their attempt to string together back-to-back wins for the first time since their six-game win streak concluded on December 4. After staying even with the Pelicans most of the way, the Jazz went scoreless for nearly four minutes in the fourth quarter, which ultimately doomed them to a 108-98 loss on Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.

The Big Two

New Orleans makes a habit of ditching conventional NBA wisdom, going all big in an era of smallball. Their trade to pair DeMarcus Cousins with star big Anthony Davis has yielded mixed results in terms of the club’s record, but one can’t deny that having two of the most talented big men in the league is tough to fault.

Cousins, for example, could be considered the MVP of the team this year. At one point in the first quarter, Cousins hit a three as the Jazz’s Ekpe Udoh failed to close out quick enough, to bring the score 25-22. Then, however, he showed his versatility on the next possession by taking Udoh off the dribble on a powerful crossover and powerful drive to the hoop for a tough lay-up to end the quarter 28-27. Remember: the dude is 6’11” and 270 pounds, but glides thru the lane like a Nutcracker ballerina.

Cousins is a rare big in the NBA. Consider: for the Pelicans this year, passing wizard Rajon Rondo runs the point and Jrue Holiday just inked a five year, $126 million extension last summer, yet Cousins leads the team in total assists. In fact, Cousins averages 25, 12, 5, a steal and a block. Two other guys have done that over the course of a season: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Charles Barkley, both of whome went on to win MVPs in those seasons.

On the other hand, if you you were to build an NBA Monstar not named LeBron, it would have the initials AD. In March, Davis will turn 25, making him one of the best 25-and-under stars in the league along with the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving and Kristaps Porzingis. The NBA is ripe with young talent, but Davis is one of the most tantalizing with his length, wingspan, three-point range, smooth jumper, and shot blocking ability on D. The caveat with Davis is his injury history, but Wednesday night he owned the fourth quarter, proving why he should be considered the cornerstone of the future.  He finished with 29 points, 15 rebounds, one block, and three steals with a +14 on the field.

Strong in Defeat: Joe Johnson

Joe Jesus had his best game of the season, finishing with 20 points off the bench, and adding seven rebounds and two assists for good measure. The professional scorer had nine points in the first half, including the last three buckets of the second quarter for the Jazz where he went Iso-Joe in all its glory. Later, at the five minute mark in the third quarter, Johnson and Cousins got in a bit of a scrum after some elbows were exchanged on Joe’s post-up and isolation. Cousins eventually fouled Joe, his fourth personal, and Joe lined up and nailed a three after the ensuing inbound. The next possession found Johnson leading the break, then spear-heading the around-the-horn passing drill, resulting in a Mitchell three to give the Jazz a 71-69 lead. Credit the vet who led the charge and kept the Jazz hanging around.

It seemed Joe Johnson was becoming frustrated with his role within Quin’s rotation, but showed why he needs to play: the Jazz won by seven in Johnson’s minutes, and his efficient 9-for-12 shooting helped a team that needed buckets on an off night for Rodney Hood (1-for-10) and Donovan Mitchell (6-for-17). Johnson was out 21 games with a wrist injury that caused him to get out of rhythm and rotation, but this game could be a turning point for his season to trend upwards. It’s also good to remember Joe is in his 17th NBA season at age 36 and enjoys the time off between games.

71-71

With three minutes left in the third quarter, the score was tied up and the Jazz had the momentum due to the Johnson-led sequence mentioned above. However, Utah scored only one additional point the rest of the quarter. A deeeeeep missed three from Mitchell, a pull-up Johnson miss over Davis, and a looooong Rodney Hood missed jumper at the end of the shot clock was the offense the Jazz could muster. On the other end, the Pelicans hit three straight threes to pull away.

Utah started the fourth quarter with another missed three by Hood, and Pels reserve Dante Cunningham then converted an and-one opportunity to give the Pelicans a 15-1 run and a 84-72 lead.

Alec Burks brought some excitement with a big dunk and then an and-one of his own to give the Jazz life with an 84-79 deficit. A few plays later, Burks went streaming down the lane to earn a pair of freebies on a hard foul by Darius Miller. However, that was the last rally as the Jazz couldn’t get much momentum the rest of the way and Anthony Davis remembered that he is really, really good at basketball.

Threes

Pelicans: 14-of-30, 46 percent.

Jazz: 7-for-32, 22 percent.

Yup.

Definition of Average

Currently, the Pelicans cling to the 8th playoff spot in the West, but they are mediocre at best. Before the win Wednesday night, New Orleans was 18-18 overall, 9-9 on the road, 5-5 in their last 10, and 11-11 in close games.

Pick and Roll

While there weren’t many plays to write home about, the Jazz did stick to their bread and butter and had a few Pick-and-Roll moments for easy buckets. With Rubio a reputable passer, Joe Ingles always looking to make the extra pass, and Donovan Mitchell’s playmaking the Jazz somehow rank 23rd in the NBA in assists per game, with 21 a night. Wednesday night they really outdid themselves and got 23. Here are the extra two that were special.

 

 

 

 

Steve Godfrey

Steve studied journalism and English, and now teaches high school in Northern Utah. He started his own website and writes about being a Tortured Jazz fan at: http://www.thetorturedfan.com/. He joined the Salt City Hoops team at the start of the 2017-18 season to connect with more Jazz fans and to continue to apply his passion for writing and for basketball.

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