Tonight the Jazz could have, should have, would have, but didn’t.
The game had the feel of a contest that could swing either way going in, perhaps because of the multiplicity of connections shared between the two teams. Not only do the Hawks employ three prominent former Jazz men in Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, and DeMarre Carroll,1 as starters, but tonight was a homecoming of sorts for both Derrick Favors and Jazz head coach Quin Snyder. Favors is a true Georgia product: born and raised in Atlanta, he attended Georgia Tech for a single season before being drafted third by the Nets in 2010. Meanwhile, at this time last season Snyder graced the Hawks bench as lead assistant coach to Atlanta’s head man Mike Budenholzer.
Add two teams that employ motion-heavy offenses seeking to employ a Spurs-ian model2 to their organization, and it should be no surprise the game came down to a final shot. But tonight’s 100 – 97 loss is the product of a unique triple double, or three pairs of players who determined the game’s outcome.
Trey Burke and Alec Burks have not started as hoped this season, and pressure on the young guards only mounted following a combined 6-of-25 garbage game against a wounded Pacers team. A quick glance at this game’s box score shows significant improvement. The Burk(e/s) Boys were major contributors against the Hawks, with Trey posting his first double-double of the season (11 points, 11 assists along with 3 steals) while Alec notched his first 20-point game of the year (22 points, 3 assists). The pair showed definite improvement and played significant roles in Utah commanding much of this game.
However, a closer look at the numbers gives cause for concern. The Jazz’s starting backcourt required 30 shots to produce their 33 points. More worrisome, they combined for a paltry 2-of-10 from the three point line.3 Under pressure after sluggish starts to the season and not confident in their three point shooting, both players relied upon a large number of long two-point shots to get themselves going. 36.4% of Trey Burke’s points came from midrange, while Alec Burks racked up a full 54.5% of his from the least efficient spots on the floor.
For stretches when those shots went in with frequency, the Jazz looked sharp and in easy control of the game. When they stopped falling, the Hawks made several major runs to swing the game back in their favor, including a 20-4 walloping to end the second quarter and a crushing 18-9 fourth quarter collapse.4 If the Jazz’s backcourt can’t find a way to right the ships of their respective games by taking more efficient shots, it will be extremely difficult for them to maintain leads once they have them, putting pressure on the team to win close games–a pressure they’ve shown they aren’t yet ready for.
It’s the well-worn refrain played yet again: former Jazz players won this game for the Hawks.
Going into the game, it was clear that even with DeMarre Carroll out, the Hawks would lean heavily on Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap. The pair entered the night as two of Atlanta’s three top scoring options, and by game end they had scored a combined 47 points. And Worse was their combined efficiency–it took them 33 shots to produce those 47 points, and they threw in 27 rebounds and 9 assists. Perhaps most lethal, they combined for a torrid 8 of 15 from three.
Millsap’s night jumps off the stat sheet: 30 and 17, including 2 steals and 2 blocks. But it was Korver who knifed the upstart Jazz at the end, burying a three point shot in Derrick Favors’ face–despite being a good four feet behind the line–to give the Hawks the lead for the first time in the fourth quarter with a mere 58 seconds left in the game. They never relinquished that lead.
The Jazz defended Korver aggressively, showing hard off of screens and frequently committing to full traps in an effort to keep him from getting long shots off. A few times, they induced him to turn the ball over; far too often, he either drew the double team then passed to a wide open Paul Millsap or simply shot from a step or two beyond the line. Back to the drawing board for the rematch in ESA.
Within Quin Snyder’s guard-initiated motion system, it’s easy to become overly focused on the perimeter game. But in this game, points in the paint from front court players was more of a litmus test for the Jazz offense. When it’s humming, with plentiful motion and purposeful, quick passing, defenses scramble into breakdowns, and the most dangerous of these leave skilled Jazz bigs near the hoop with the defense out of position.
That was largely the story of the first quarter. In the first 7:40 of the game, Favors and Kanter combined for 7 of 9 shooting for 15 points, including 8 points in the paint. The team fed their bigs, who rewarded the trust by punishing the Hawks.
Then the Jazz stopped. In the last 7:13 of the second quarter, Favors and Kanter combined for one shot, a gorgeous dunk by Favors after a silky spin left off the dribble. Otherwise, nothing. The Jazz went from being up 7 to down 3 at half.
The third quarter found the Jazz using their power players once more, as Favors and Kanter combined for 6 for 8 shooting and 11 points. Not coincidentally, the team led 88 – 82 entering the fourth. Yet in that decisive period, which saw the Jazz score only 9 points as Hayward, Burke, and Burks missed 8 long jump shots, Favors and Kanter combined for 2 of 4 shooting and 5 points. Both misses were three point attempts by Kanter.
The duo ended the night 16 of 22 for a combined 36 points – 26 of which came in the first and third quarters. In the second and fourth quarters, where the team was outscored by 12 to cost the Jazz the game, they combined for only 10 points on a mere 5 shots.
Snyder trusts his ball handlers to play with the pass as well as with purpose. If the team wants to win games like this, they need to continue to involve the big guys, who are shooting 73% from the field in tandem.
The next chance to see if the Jazz learned anything from this loss will be Friday at Madison Square Garden against Carmelo Anthony.