Time to put a bow on it for the year.
This is the 24th weekly edition of the Salt City Seven this season. Now that the regular season is over, we’ll be powering down the SC7 machine for 2016-17, but don’t worry: plenty of playoff coverage is still coming your way.
With 82 games in the books, though, it’s time to recap the week with one more look at the biggest stories, quotes, numbers, plays and performers from Utah’s week. Enjoy!
The Jazz enter the postseason having won seven of their final nine games, including three of four against playoff-bound teams. But by now, you surely know that it wasn’t enough: the Clippers were even hotter.
L.A. finished its season with seven straight wins and an 11-2 record since March 18. That stretch included a win over the Jazz that would break the eventual tie. So the Jazz head to Hollywood, where they’ll open their first playoffs in a half decade with games in Staples Center on Saturday and Tuesday.
Let’s not sugar coat this: the Jazz would have a better chance of advancing if they were the hosts of this first-round series. But since they’re not, it behooves them to embrace the situation, and one way they can do that is by realizing that this format puts a lot of pressure on the Clippers in games one and two.
Had the Jazz, with their bunch of playoff virgins, had to open with two at the Viv, the pressure would have been immense. Most of the Jazz’s players have never been in a situation where they were expected to win a playoff game, and facing that situation against a veteran team who knows how to go in and get one on the road might have been a lot to deal with in a maiden postseason experience. Play tight under the weight of that pressure and you could easily hand back the homecourt advantage you just fought to gain. Instead, they get to play a little freer to start. Don’t get me wrong, it still behooves Quin Snyder’s team to come back to Salt Lake City next weekend tied 1-1, but the pressure shifts to the Clippers, and that’s not insubstantial for two teams that potentially have some big questions hinging on this postseason.
There’s some conventional wisdom that if you’re going to earn a road split to open a series, game one is the best opportunity. Historically, that’s true. Since the NBA changed first-round series to best-of-seven in 2003, road teams are 29-83 (.260) in first-round game ones and 21-91 (.188) in game twos. That means teams are about 38% more successful at stealing the opener than the second game.
If you limit the sample on that to just the 24 road teams who have advanced out of the first round in the best-of-seven era, they’re 14-10 (.583) in the series opener and 10-14 (.417) in the second game. That’s about the same overall record difference — advancing road teams are about 40% better in game one. Of those 24 teams, 10 advanced after splitting with a G1 win, six won G2, four were able to sweep the two road games, and four started out 0-2 but were able to steal a game later on in the series.
So the Jazz have some historical precedent in terms of a path to victory even if they lose on Saturday, but it says something that more than half of the advancing road teams scored a win in that first game, and only 1 in 6 teams that advanced came home 0-2 after their first trip to the hosts’ place.
To be fair, most first-round series feature a road game that’s significantly behind its host in overall quality. These teams had identical regular season records, and the Jazz actually just edged L.A. in terms of net rating (+4.7 to +4.5). So this isn’t a classic underdog-vs.-clear-favorite situation. But whether they’re a classic underdog or not, the Jazz need to win a game at Staples to survive past this series. The 112 different squads who have opened the playoffs on the road and the 24 who advanced would tell Utah to strike early.
Here’s what’s ahead for the Jazz and Clips. All times are MDT.
Game 1 – Sat. April 15 Jazz at Clippers, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 2 – Tue. April 18 Jazz at Clippers, 8:30 p.m., TNT
Game 3 – Fri. April 21 Clippers at Jazz, 8 p.m., ESPN2
Game 4 – Sun. April 23 Clippers at Jazz, 7 p.m., TNT
Game 5 * Tue. April 25 Jazz at Clippers, TBD
Game 6 * Fri. April 28 Clippers at Jazz, TBD
Game 7 * Sun. April 30 Jazz at Clippers, TBD
* = if necessary
“I’m just going to ask him, ‘Do you want to win a championship?’ I feel like with the way we’ve improved the last few years, since Quin got here, I don’t think it’d be a great decision to leave now.”
– Rudy Gobert on how he intends to lobby fellow star Gordon Hayward ahead of the latter’s impending free agency, per Hoopshype’s Alex Kennedy
For the second time in three weeks, Gobert made it easy to identify the most salient and newsworthy quote of the week.
Gobert also told Kennedy that he understands the personal nature of Hayward’s upcoming decision. But that won’t stop him for laying out a convincing case that centers around the idea of throwing a parade someday.
“I know he likes to win,” Gobert continued in the piece. “I know he likes it here in Utah, and his wife and kids like it here too… I’m going to remind him that I really want to win a championship and I think we can do it. If he stays, I think we’ll have chances [to win titles]. But it’s still going to be his decision at the end of the day.”
These playoffs will be huge in painting a picture of that future to Hayward. More important than the outcome, the Jazz have to finish this postseason feeling like they belong. If they do so, it feels as though the Jazz have a good chance of keeping their superstar.
Different people got different reads from Hayward’s reaction to a crowd-founded billboard asking him to stay; more optimistic fans interpreted his smiles and earnest giddiness, while their pessimistic counterparts instead saw smugness and sarcasm1. When you consider that, just a few hours later, he got emotional about the fans and the team after a career-high scoring night, I think it gets harder to subscribe to the more pessimistic view that he has one foot out the door.
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) April 8, 2017
Either way, this is what the next 79 days will be about.
Instead of looking at some plays from this past week, let’s quickly peep some stuff we might see the Jazz and Clippers deploy against each other. I’ve spent some time looking back through Jazz-Clips games to see what worked for either team.
The Jazz run a lot of this, which as the name might suggests, is a Euro import. Technically it’s just a ball screen with a back-pick on the screener’s man so that he can’t contain, trap or show. The effect it has is basically like a staggered screen running toward the hoop. Watch George Hill come take DJ out of the play here so that Hayward can get all the way to the rim. I promise you’ll see this sprinkled into Utah’s offense.
Floppy is a popular action in the NBA as a whole right now, and both the Clippers and Jazz will use it to free their shooters. In this action, a guy who’s a good shooter off the catch will start underneath the basket, with screeners to either side of him. Eventually he’ll fire off in one of the two directions, and it’s pretty easy to set him up for an open jumper. Here JJ Redick goes too far over so Joe Ingles can easily set up, but that’s not the only way this can play out. If Redick had followed him down the baseline, Ingles could simply curl back around for an open jumper or get into the lane. If the screener’s man on that side tries to jump out and help, the screener has an easy slip to the basket. The Jazz will run this type of action occasionally for Ingles, Hayward and Rodney Hood, while the Clips use it a lot for Redick and Jamal Crawford.
The Clippers run as much pistol as anybody. The Jazz on the other hand, barely touch it, preferring instead to bring the action back toward the middle. But as we talked about last week, we’ve suddenly seen the Jazz deploy it here and there. While the timing might seem odd to introduce a new piece this late in the season, I think it’s strategic. My guess is that Snyder knows the Jazz are going to see a lot of this action in round one, and started introducing it to his players so that they’ll get familiar with all of its options and permutations. If that’s the case, that’s pretty smart on Snyder’s part.
Pistol, as we explored last week, is an early offense set-up involving some quick 3-man action toward the sideline. Most commonly, the guy who brings the ball down passes, pitches or hands off to a guy on the wing, who then has the option of heading right into a trailing screener. From that basic set-up, a lot of different things can happen, but watch here as Crawford uses that screen by the trailing big to create a mismatch that the Jazz have no chance at defending.
Of course, we’ll see a bunch of other stuff, too. Both teams are very pick-and-roll oriented, so we’ll see a number of options built around simple ball screen action with wrinkles here and there to keep the opponent guessing.
Jazz 120, Wolves 113 – Gordon Hayward
I’m just going to save my fingertips and your eyeballs some work here: THIRTY-NINE! Or more to the point, 39-3-5, 22 shots, near-perfect from deep, +13 with him, -20 while he sat. Just his second half line (25 points on 12 shots, plus four assists) probably would have been enough.
Jazz 105, Warriors 99 – Joe Johnson
George Hill played a bigger role (20 points in 19 minutes) during the portion of the game when Gorden State was still playing something closer to its regular rotation. But how do you look past the damage inflicted by Iso Joe late? His overall line was basically a Hayward Lite type of night — 19-5-5 — but his fourth was bananas. Thirteen in the final frame, and he did so with 5-for-7 shooting, just putting on a shot-making show. Boris Diaw was also sneaky good in this one, and Gobert had another monster double-double with 17 & 18.
Jazz 101, Spurs 97 – Quin Snyder
On a night when eight guys scored between eight and 14 points, it was pretty hard to find an undoubted MVP. Utah’s Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox made a pretty convincing case for Hayward, and that’s almost where I went. But ultimately, giving him the game ball for a 14-2-1 performance in 22 minutes seemed to cheapen, in a way, the game balls he has gotten for things like, oh, 39 points in a must-win game.
So instead I went with Snyder. His coaching in this game was fine: he came out with a win while finding opportunities to tinker with a bunch of different combinations, including finding time for the Gobert-Derrick Favors due I tweetstormed about earlier that afternoon. But this is more an acknowledgement of his body of work. We hadn’t given him a game ball since the “Wake Up” game in his rookie year, so why not acknowledge him in a year full of milestones? He brought his career coaching record over .500 and is already second behind Jerry Sloan in franchise winning percentage as a coach. He got the Jazz their first 50+ win season since 2009-10, and did so under crazy circumstances. He passed Ty Corbin for the No. 3 spot on the all-time Jazz wins list, and his first playoff win will put him third there as well. So take a bow, Quin. And take the imaginary game ball2.
When people look back on this season five, 10, 20 years from now, they’ll remember it as the year the Jazz finally made it back to the promised land. They’ll remember 50. They’ll remember monster leaps by first-time All-Star Hayward and likely All-NBA Gobert. They’ll remember the long, arduous rebuild finally paying off.
And they’ll remember this:
In a lot of ways, that’s still the defining graphic of the season. With 82 games in the books, the Jazz have still had just four outing where none of their players were unavailable, limited or left early due to injury. One website estimates that the Jazz came up 9.0 wins short of where they should be based on their injury situation alone. Since the Jazz finished at 51, you could surmise that the “wins lost” metric means that a healthy Jazz team is roughly a 60-win type of ball club3.
We might as well end the year where we started it: with an update on Gobert’s ever-growing block list.
Of course, none of this takes into account all the shots he made more difficult, or all the drivers he scared away from the paint altogether. But it’s still fun to keep track — unless you’re Boogie or the Timberwolves.