They say a sign of a good team is the ability to win without playing your best ball, right? Turns out the Jazz might be a good team.
Battling some of the same periods of inconsistency that have plagued them early on in the year, Utah was nonetheless able to grind out a big home win to jump back up over .500. They were being out-worked at certain points in the meat of the game, a strange notion for this group, especially against a Raptors team on the second night of a double-road back-to-back where stop one was the world champion Warriors. But like a few other contests already this year, the Jazz seemed to raise their level just in time when it mattered most.
“I think if you contrast the last [part] of the game with the first [part] of the game, we were just much more aggressive with everything we did,” coach Quin Snyder said following the win.
The inconsistency has to be killing Snyder, even though he knows it’s part of the deal with a team so young, something he reminds us of often. They’ll look fantastic for stretches, like the first few minutes of the first quarter against Toronto, only to devolve into a confused mess for spurts, often with no obvious catalyst. Think of a sequence to close the third quarter where they generated a turnover as the clock wore down, only to give the ball right back up with an errant Joe Ingles pass and get scored on as the buzzer sounded. That’s a four-point swing, and the team’s margin for error just gets lower every time that sort of thing happens.
And yet, this is not the first game the team has won even without maintaining their highest level for 48 minutes or even close. It may seem crazy, but the closest they’ve come to doing so may actually have come in last week’s loss in Cleveland — but once again, a vicious few minutes, that time near the end of the game, sunk them.
There are two lenses one can potentially view this early trend through, assuming of course that they agree with the inherent assessment. The first is slight worry — will bits of inconsistency and lost focus be the norm for long enough that it becomes damaging to the group’s development? The second is general optimism — that the Jazz are still 6-5 despite eight of their first 11 on the road, a couple injuries, inconsistent play and a level they’d expect to rise from their best player in Gordon Hayward has to be a good thing if one expects at least a couple of these elements to change, right?
As usual, the answer lies somewhere in between. For tonight, though, the Jazz will take comfort in the fact that they stepped up when it mattered most and got a big team win as they head into yet another tough part of the schedule1.
“It’s good to close against a really good team,” said Rodney Hood after. “Even though they lost a couple, they’ve got really good players… it’s good to start this little stretch off with a win.”
-1.0 — On-court per-100-possessions figure for Trey Burke, which now places him as the only Jazzman still receiving minutes to be in the negatives for the year2. Honestly, this is surprising. Burke hasn’t been anything spectacular since his blazing shooting start to the year, but he’s been far from bad — he’s still over 47 percent from deep and just under 48 percent from the field overall. Some of this will obviously be the teammates he’s playing with, but it’s nonetheless a bit surprising to the eye to see Trey enter the on-court negatives.
20 — Number of fouls the Jazz took against the Raptors, a sizable drop from the roughly 25 they’d drawn on a per-48-minute basis heading into Wednesday’s game. The Jazz permitted only 18 free throws, 12 fewer than the Raptors were averaging on a nightly basis.
“It’s not the first one, it’s not the last one.”
-Rudy Gobert, on a DeMar DeRozan dunk over him. Rudy was completely unbothered by it after the game, quick to note that his and the team’s response were immediate, and of course that Utah won the game.
OK, it was a pretty ridiculous dunk: Sorry, Rudy. There’s no way this wasn’t making it in here.
Here’s what Snyder had to say on the matter:
“That was on the other guys. That’s a straight blow-by. He can’t have a guy coming full speed at him down the lane. To his credit, he’s tough mentally and he challenged the shot, and he got dunked on. But our team got dunked on. The other four guys, they were dunked on — Rudy just happened to be under the rim.”
Too many similar turnovers: The Jazz have a couple world class roll men in Gobert and Favors, but these guys’ proficiency on the dive seems to have spoiled Jazz ball-handlers to some degree. Far too often so far this year, they’re trying to thread impossible passes to their rolling bigs when such passes simply aren’t there. These are often damaging turnovers, as the opponent can run the other way with one or both of Utah’s best rim protectors behind the play. The Jazz had several of these mishaps Wednesday, and Snyder was cognizant of it. They’ve put an emphasis on diminishing turnovers much of the year and have generally done well, so expect this to be cleaned up also.
Not quite enough Favors? Given how well Derrick Favors has been playing of late, plus what would seem to be a plum matchup with a guy he can physically dominate in Luis Scola, it was a bit strange to see Derrick end up with just nine field-goal attempts on the evening. The Jazz made a visible effort to get him involved to start the first and third quarters, but didn’t seem to be able to sustain it.
“We don’t want to just force-feed something and get stagnant,” Snyder explained after the game. “So we kept trying to find him, we were running stuff for him out of timeouts… He doesn’t get it when we turn it over, either.”
This last part is both true and relevant in this game, and while Snyder is right that forcing anything can be a negative at times, it would behoove the Jazz to make a bit more specific effort to get Favors involved, especially when things slow down. Snyder noted that the Jazz have tried to get him going in non-post situations where he can rely on more than just his brute strength and get some momentum to the hoop — these are easy enough sets to run in simple pick-and-roll, and look for them to be re-emphasized starting Friday night.
Pumping the clutch: The Jazz were dealing with an ugly clutch figure early on in the year, mostly due to their collapse in Cleveland down the stretch, but they’re slowly on the uptick after two consecutive positive games here. They’ve now played 23 minutes on the season where they either led or trailed by five or fewer points in the final five minutes of regulation or overtime, and are up to just a minus-2.5 per-100-possessions during those minutes — a figure that will revert to positives with even a couple made baskets next time around. Grinding out wins down the stretch against playoff-caliber opponents is big for the Jazz.