Remember how, when the Jazz were in a bit of a slide with four straight losses, the message from within the team was that no one was panicking even as they looked to find some answers? That sword cuts both ways, as it turns out.
“I don’t want to get too excited when things are good, and I don’t want to get too excited when things are bad,” said coach Quin Snyder following a rout of Phoenix that might tempt some fans’ inclinations to claim this team is back.
As usual, his words can be heeded while also taking a measured look at what the Jazz did well Monday night, an extensive list. To be fair, their opponent is in complete disarray — after an uninspiring loss to the similarly-reeling Bucks Sunday, the Suns just didn’t have any juice whatsoever. They played lazy defense, stagnant offense outside Brandon Knight and Mirza Teletovic, and seemed disinterested in battling in the dirty areas.
Thing is, we’ve seen this Jazz team fail to pull away in similar circumstances recently — they weren’t about to let that be the case in their final home game before the holiday. A bit of a third quarter malaise aside, there was zero question throughout this game which group was playing with more force and purpose.
The tone was set by a fantastic performance from Utah’s starting group in both the first and third quarters. There’s been occasional criticism of this exact group opening games in this space in recent weeks, but you’ll find none here tonight, or ever again so long as they play this way. Raul Neto was key; he logged just 20 minutes on the night after leaving briefly with a shoulder tweak1, but every one of these was a productive minute. The Jazz were a plus-22 in this time, with Neto in particular looking as decisive and aggressive as he has all season. For his part, Snyder thinks the upward trend began earlier.
“I think he clicked when we were in LA [against] the Clippers [in late November],” Quin said. He went on to note that, particularly with multiple rookies in a group like the Jazz typically play, it’s not so much a gradual ascent — there will be good nights and bad nights, and the swings can be volatile at times.
He’s right, but also conceded that the team as a whole has improved over the last couple weeks. The starting group was emblematic of it, flowing in a way the Jazz have been striving for much of the year but have found elusive at times.
“We passed the ball really well,” said Gordon Hayward after the game. “We were all moving, got some layups, got some 3s, scoring a lot of different ways. That’s what we want — variety, we want things to be a little random.”
As chance would have it, the kings of dominating chaos will test the Jazz’s progress in the most emphatic way possible Wednesday night. The Jazz head into Oracle Arena for a rematch of a down-to-the-wire thriller against Golden State — even a few minutes playing below the level they maintained for much of Monday’s game will mean almost certain doom. It’ll be a fun test to see how they stack up.
37 — Free throws for the Jazz against Phoenix, tied for second-most they’ve attempted in a game on the year. The Jazz also won the points in the paint battle, though the plus-10 margin here actually undersells the way the Jazz dominated down low before garbage time.
33 — Points in the first quarter for the Jazz, breaking a season high they set just three days ago against Denver.
“We are going to play bad sometimes, we are going to play good sometimes, and hopefully we play good more than we play bad.”
-Quin Snyder, laying it out in simple terms for SCH boss man Andy Larsen, who may have slightly flubbed his question.
The dunk heard round the world: So, this happened during the game of basketball.
OK then, Alec.
Seriously, this was the dunk of the year in Jazzland and may not be topped for some time. You highlight truthers out there, stop it now: Every Jazz player canvassed believes it was a dunk, whether or not Burks’ hand touched the rim. Are Blake Griffin’s two greatest dunks ever real dunks? What about the one that won Dwight Howard that DUNK contest? This is a dunk2.
The Jazz locker room was as boisterous as it’s been all season after the win, and this play late in the fourth sure didn’t hurt. Gordon Hayward said it’s the best he’s ever seen, and he’d be passing that information on to former Jazzman Jeremy Evans, with whom Burks always had a fun dunking rivalry. Burks said Evans was the first guy he texted after, but also said he’s had better in-game dunks — “Nah, I’ve done some things before” were his exact words. If you missed it and can’t view Vines or something, just turn on SportsCenter later tonight.
Lyles trending upward: It’s been an up and down season for Trey Lyles, exactly as one would expect for a rookie in a complex system after just one year out of position in college. He’s had games where his timing is perfect defensively, and others where he seems lost on every possession; games where his stroke is falling and he’s making plays off the dribble, others where he can’t seem to touch the ball without turning it over or torpedoing a possession. Snyder’s quote from above applies — there will be games where it’s working and games where it’s not, and the only focus now is tipping the scales toward the former.
Monday night was one of these, and a continuation of a mostly positive recent stretch. Lyles has been rebounding excellently, up over eight boards per-36-minutes in the month of December, and he had seven more in just 25 minutes against the Suns. He also made a couple sneaky nice passes, something he’s been busting out a little more often lately, and mostly did well in a couple different matchups defensively. For him to look this good even for small stretches has to be a positive for what most viewed as a long-term project, and it’ll be a concrete positive if he can do it more consistently.
Burks ending halves as well as lives: Before Alec threw down the above monstrosity, he made another great play that’s become something of a specialty for him. To close the first half, with under three seconds left and the Jazz inbounding from their own baseline, Burks took the pass and went coast to coast to add two points to the team’s lead and get them back ahead by over double figures. A question, also posted on Twitter: How many non-superstar players are better options in these situations? Very few other players have Burks’ combination of speed and willingness to hurtle his body in virtually any direction, and he’s made these sort of plays a few times this year. Before long, teams will be including it in their scouting reports on him.