Slowly but surely, it feels like the pieces are coming together for this Jazz team. Snuck up on by the absence of star Derrick Favors1 and facing an opposing stud in Anthony Davis who was at risk of missing the game himself 24 hours prior, Utah shut out any external noise and were the consistently better team in a 14-point win against the Pelicans.
The game was far from perfect for the Jazz, who let New Orleans back into things on a couple occasions where they may have been able to close things out for good2. They also got the win despite a monster night from Davis — 36 points on 66 percent shooting, 11 boards and three blocks, and more importantly the second consecutive Jazz win that came despite an opposing superstar going off for a big number.
“He had a big night, there’s no question about it — but I think he had to work,” Snyder said on Davis’ performance. “I just think our team does a pretty good job of thinking about the team defense… We had multiple guys that guarded him, and that’s how you try to wear somebody down. He’s a great player, but we did a good job on the whole, as a group. I think that’s the way our team sees it.”
It looked very similar to Wednesday night’s win in Los Angeles, which featured a 40-point outing from Blake Griffin despite the Jazz winning fairly comfortably. To be fair, the real damage was done while Davis sat on this night — per SCH lead man Andy Larsen, the Pelicans were outscored by an unreal 15 points in just 3:40 of game time while Davis sat on the bench, this in a game they lost by 14.
Still, though, the game plan appears to be paying off: Utah is content on some occasions to let an opposing star rack up numbers, as long as it comes on more difficult looks and doesn’t allow the rest of the team to get into the flow. They could live with a steady diet of Griffin midrange jumpers Wednesday, the same way they could live with a few Davis dunks and jumpers if it meant avoiding lots of wide open shots elsewhere. “One guy can’t beat you,” said Gordon Hayward, and while there have been occasional exceptions to this mantra in the past, this Pellies team certainly isn’t one of them.
Monday night, their resolve in this regard will be put to the truest test possible. Steph Curry, the most individually dominant scorer in the game and perhaps the most “gameplan-proof” player of all time, will push Utah’s guards to their limit. The whole “let the star eat, shut down the rest” tactic has backfired on everyone who’s tried it so far this year. Whether Utah approaches things the same way remains to be seen.
61.5 — Percent of available rebounds collected by the Jazz in the 27 minutes Rudy Gobert and Trevor Booker spent on the floor together. The Pelicans were held to just four offensive boards for the entire game, and the Jazz held a 49-35 advantage overall on the glass.
14 — Personal fouls drawn by Utah’s starting lineup alone.
4 — Times in the last five games where the Jazz have been rested while facing an opponent playing on a back-to-back — three of the four at home. The Jazz went 3-1 in these games. Teams all react differently to varying amounts of rest, but Utah may be in store for a few more rested opponents upcoming3.
“I don’t care if he scores a point. If he comes in the game and gives us that, our team will score points.”
-Quin Snyder, discussing Trevor Booker’s energy and defensive effort.
By the Book: Thrust into an emergency starting role due to Favors’ absence, Booker had far and away his best game of the season. He may have been the best individual defender the Jazz used on Davis on this night, and also did a great job on Ryan Anderson when shifted down a spot — Anderson ended up with just nine points on 1-7 shooting in large part because Booker was fantastic running him off his spots from deep. Most importantly, where it had often felt this year like Trevor’s famous energy was flowing in some of the wrong directions, he seemed to right that ship in a big way Saturday.
“He and I have talked a lot about, sometimes the game feels good, [and] sometimes it’s hard,” said Snyder. “It’s not surprising – you get in the flow of the game, the game slows down a little bit, you see the ball go in the basket. He’s been due for a night like this. The scoring portion aside, what he gives us defensively and on the glass, and his emotion and his intensity, that’s what our team needs.”
Booker was seemingly everywhere, racking up 15 of his 23 rebounding chances (per SportVU data) and stuffing the stat sheet with three assists, three blocks and two steals to go along with his double-double. Even more encouragingly, he only had one true record scratch4 on the entire night, an item that had been one of his biggest problems all year. Continued strong play from Booker could be a huge boon to Utah’s bench when Favors returns to the fold.
Successful lineup staggering continues: Snyder is always willing to experiment with lineups, and Wednesday in LA he toyed with removing Hayward early in the first and third quarters with the intent of bringing him back to start the second and fourth quarters against primarily reserve units. For the second consecutive game, this was successful — that insane off-court number for Davis noted above was possible in part because Hayward and at least one other starter (or Alec Burks, starter-caliber) were on the floor during each of these periods wreaking havoc with the Pellies’ best rim protector off the floor. There will be times where opposing primary groups are too strong for this sort of thing and Snyder can’t get away with leaving staggered units in for so long, but he’s been right on the mark in these last two.
Dwindling leads: It was generally a positive game for the Jazz, but there were at least two stretches where they pulled ahead by at least 15 and seemed poised to close the game down only to loosen up a bit and allow the Pelicans back in. It’s not the first time this has happened recently, and they know it’s an issue.
“For sure,” said Hayward when I asked if correcting this was big for the Jazz’s development5. “The next step for us is closing it out – pushing the lead from 20 to 30, instead of letting them creep back to 7 or 8.”
Snyder echoed the comments, and while this does seem to a point like the perils of a young team, it’s something to keep in mind moving forward, especially with a number of winnable games on the docket.
Strange violation on Neto: Only those paying extremely close attention early in the game would have caught this, but a call took place in Saturday night’s game that I’ve never seen before. Anthony Davis shot the first of two free throws just over three minutes into the first quarter, and missed, but that’s where things got interesting. For some strange reason, Utah’s Raul Neto was called for a lane violation, allowing Davis to re-shoot (and make) his attempt — despite this being the first free throw in a set of two, and furthermore despite Neto standing in the normal guard spot outside the three-point line as Davis shot.
I’ve never seen this before, particularly on the first of two free throws. Neto hadn’t either, telling me after the game that he was just as confused as I seemed to be. Luckily it didn’t impact the outcome of the game, but it’d sure be a shame down the line to see a call like that alter the course of an important contest since it really has nothing to do with the play at hand — Davis couldn’t even physically see Neto as he shot.