The Jazz have won three straight since our last edition — four straight overall — but that actually undersells the drama their week held. Utah trailed in the fourth quarter of two of their games before ultimately finishing the week undefeated.
So today we’ll delve into some interesting facts about the Jazz’s sudden ability to win close games and even come from behind in fourth quarters. But that’s just a start. We’ll also fire up the time machine and go back to the last time Utah found itself this far above .500, and we have three game balls to give away and much, much more.
It could be argued that Utah really shouldn’t have won in Phoenix, where they trailed by two with under a minute to play, or against Orlando, who had a five-point lead inside four minutes.
It’s one of the most stunning reversals from a year ago: after all the hand-wringing about the clutch failings of the 2015-16 Jazz, this year’s squad finds ways to win more often than not.
Utah has been involved in 24 games that met the NBA’s definition of “clutch” for stat mining: any game that was within five points in the final five minutes of regulation. That’s a pretty normal amount — median for the league is 23. The entire league is on pace to play a lot more this season than last, likely a function of the fact that there are fewer truly bad teams. That means the ability to perform in the clutch is probably going to be a bigger factor in this year’s playoff race than in years past. Last year, the Jazz played 42 such games and went 14-28. That tied them for the third worst clutch record in the league.
This week’s nailbiters helped the Jazz improve to 15-9 (.625) in clutch games so far this season, the sixth best winning percentage in such games. Obviously they’ve been helped by better depth, more experience, and the addition of veterans who have been in different situations.
Here are a few other facts about the Jazz’s performance in the clutch this season:
Rolling: The Jazz have won six of their last eight contests that matched the definition. That includes their wins against the Lakers, Suns (twice), Nets, Wolves and Magic. The lone clutch losses in that stretch were to the Raptors and the Grizzlies1, both on the road. Only Boston (7-2) has more clutch wins during that stretch.
From deep: Utah leads the league in clutch 3-point percentage, making 44% of their long bombs when the score is within five down the stretch. Not surprisingly, they’re second in both TS% and eFG%.
Hands up: It probably won’t come as a surprise that Utah’s late-game success has a lot to do with their defense. They’re top six in eFG defense in the clutch, which is important since they’re middle of the pack in opponent turnover rate, opponent free throw rate and opponent offensive rebound rate in the clutch. And even though they don’t force a lot of clutch TOs, they are able to capitalize on the ones they do: only San Antonio scores a higher percentage of their clutch points off of opponent TOs than the Jazz, who get generate 17.6% of their offense that way under these criteria.
Wasatch Front: Weirdly, the Jazz still seem a bit shy about unleashing both Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors in clutch situations2. Favors has played around eight clutch minutes all year. Which is odd considering that the Jazz won six of the seven games where Favors played while it was close late. Both Favors and Gobert have been efficient in those situations this year: 68% and 87% true shooting, respectively.
Cold-blooded closer: That said, nobody’s matching the clutch performance of one Joseph Howarth Ingles. Slo-Mo has an INSAAAAAANE clutch TS of 137.5%. Only Denver’s Darrell Arthur shoots better with the game in the balance, and he’s played in just five clutch affairs. Joe has seen action in 15, and is 9-6.
Versatile star: Gordon Hayward’s efficiency drops in the clutch, which makes sense given how he’s swarmed when he touches the ball late. But his rebound and assist percentages both go up, and his assist-to-turnover ratio improves as well. Contrary to popular belief, his clutch TO% is lower than his overall TO%, and both are likely a function of his central role in the Jazz’s offense and identity.
Sharing the rock: The Jazz are one of the most pass-happy teams in the NBA all game long, but 60.9% of their clutch buckets are assisted, the fourth highest figure in the league. What makes this wacky is that neither Gobert nor Rodney Hood have been credited for a single clutch assist all season. Neither have Favors or Dante Exum, but that’s less surprising given how few clutch minutes either one has played.
That’s why they got him: Not surprisingly, George Hill is also great in the clutch this year. The Jazz are 6-2 in those games when he’s available, and his clutch stats are very consistent with his regular ones, another sign that the always-calm Hill doesn’t change his demeanor that much and just keeps churning out good results regardless of the circumstances. Two statistical outliers: his assist percentage jumps to 37.6% and he has not recorded a single turnover in 20 minutes of clutch play so far.
“If Gordon Hayward is not an All-Star, we are all going to be really pissed off.”
– The ever quotable Ingles, as relayed by Jazz radio voice David Locke
All-Star starters were announced on Thursday evening, it’s officially up to 15 Western Conference coaches to answer the question of whether the Jazz will have their first All-Star since 2011. The coaches have just under a week to vote for seven reserves, and then we’ll learn next Thursday evening whether Hayward or even Gobert make the team.
Hayward is getting more and more vocal support from around the league, and is sounding more like a lock even without factoring in injuries to other Western stars. He was eighth among Western frontcourt players in the peer vote, which is a nice sign of respect. Gobert ranked 14th in the players vote and tied for 8th in the media vote.
Jazz 110, Pistons 77: Rodney Hood
A pretty easy call: Rodney exploded with seven threes in his best offensive outing in a while. He scored 13 in the second quarter, including 11 that came during a 15-4 run that put the Jazz ahead after a rough start. Hayward took over from there with 10 in the latter part of the quarter, and Hill assumed the mantle in the third. But Rodney earns this one.
Jazz 114, Magic 107: Gordon Hayward
This was an unbelievably tough call. I originally had Gobert (19 & 19) here, but how can we not recognize a performance that helped Hayward lock down Western Conference Player of the Week? His line was 23-5-7, and did that with 82% true shooting and relatively low usage. Plus, he made a bunch of the plays that the Jazz used to close on a 17-5 run. When the Jazz were down five, he drew a 3-point foul, and then set up a Favors and-one dunk. Those six points put the Jazz ahead for good.
Jazz 106, Suns 101: Rudy Gobert
Not only do I owe Rudy one from the Orlando game, but he was really superb on both ends. He didn’t miss a shot in the final quarter, and finished with 18 & 17. His four blocks included the game-sealing stuff at the rim. But yes, Joe Johnson deserves to feel slighted here. Iso Joe had the go-ahead three, two icing free throws, and overall 10 of his 15 in the fourth quarter. So it was another tough call3, but ultimately it felt like Gobert just impacted the game more overall — plus probably deserves it just for this.
Saturday’s win put Utah 10 games over .500 for the first time all season and the first time in the Quin Snyder or Ty Corbin eras.
The last time the Jazz ended a game 10 over .500 was 2,184 days ago — January 22, 2011, when a loss in Philadelphia dropped the Jazz to 27-17. That team was coached by Jerry Sloan and featured players like Deron Williams, Al Jefferson, Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap, Raja Bell and a rookie named Hayward.
The Jazz actually maxed out at 14 over .500 (27-13) that month before the wheels came off. What happened over the next month would change every single thing that has happened to the club since.
One night while the Jazz were still cooking, someone I trusted was talking to me after I wrapped the broadcast. The individual gave me an ominous (if also vague) sense that something is up, and hinted at tension between Jerry and Deron. I believed my friend, but still was shocked when February brought the sudden resignation of a Hall of Fame coach and the subsequent trade of the Jazz’s franchise star. Those moves led the Jazz into a deep rebuild and several years of growing pains.
It took more than six years, but the Jazz have worked their way back to where they left off back in 2011, with the sense that even brighter days lie ahead.
The Jazz will likely be favored in four of this week’s matchups, but that doesn’t mean they’ll go 4-0. All four of these games are sneaky tough for different reasons.
Friday at Mavericks: Utah has already had four separate four-game winning streaks, but have yet to stretch any of them out to five. They’ll have another chance on Friday, but they’ll have to beat a team that has won three straight as of this writing. The Jazz will be rested, waiting in the Big D while the Mavs play in Miami on Thursday night. The Jazz game will be Dallas’ third in four nights, but they have been playing better.
Saturday vs. Pacers: Indy is another team that has been playing better, surging from 15-18 to over .500 with a five-game winning streak that was finally broken in Denver. Another intriguing subplot to this game: the Paul George-vs.-Hayward debate is interesting again4.
Monday vs. Thunder: Oh, great the Jazz get pissed-off Russell Westbrook. No matter how the All-Star guard selection played out, someone who should be starting in the West was going to get left out: Russ, Steph Curry or James Harden. Westbrook drew the short straw, losing the fan vote tiebreaker despite ranking first in both the media vote and the player vote. So expect him to be extra motivated — and playing on four full days of rest — when he visits SLC on Monday.
Tuesday at Nuggets: The Jazz have to visit the mile-high team on a back-to-back, which would be hard enough even if Denver didn’t have the league’s fifth quickest pace. Remarkably, Denver currently holds a playoff spot, largely because of a very balanced offense. They still can’t defend anybody though, so this one might by necessity become a Rocky Mountain shootout.
There was plenty of fun in Utah’s 3-0 week, but to see the most fun thing to come out of Jazz Nation since our last edition, watch this video:
“Better… than him… obviously.”
Alex Orton (@AlexOrton2) and Paul Johnson (@pcjohnson6) are friends who kind of accidentally stumbled into building fun fan content when they imagined what it would be like if the Jazz had one announcer who was unusually subdued while the other provided over-the-top reactions and descriptions to everything.
But in my book, the best one is this Jingles rap, delivered in a pretty convincing Aussie accent by Alex, the rapper in all three. I asked Alex if he had spent any time in Australia to perfect that accent — or even the laid back style of humor — and he said no. “I guess I just watched Crocodile Dundee enough times, it kinda stuck,” Alex said.
Both Ingles and Gobert retweeted their respective raps, which has helped them reach a huge audience. The Jingles rap had been viewed over 170,000 times as of Wednesday evening.