1. Memphis allowed just 7 points in the last 7 minutes of the game.
That was the difference: the Jazz went into the 4th quarter with a 9 point lead, but Memphis shut them down offensively with just 16 points in the quarter. This wasn’t due to one thing, but a multitude of factors:
It wasn’t exactly surprising that the Grizzlies made a run, and I don’t think it was youthful inexperience at play here: the Jazz are now 20-5 when they come into the 4th quarter with a lead. But the Jazz were just a little off, missed a few shots, and last year’s Western Conference Finalists implemented their best skill. It happens.
2. Despite the loss, the Jazz played significantly better than Monday night.
The much-discussed effort deficit apparent Monday night was improved upon tonight. This was especially true defensively: Derrick Favors started the game with a big effort, getting 2 blocks in that 1st quarter, to go along with 10 points. He also battled with Zach Randolph, denying him preferred low post position for the majority of the game.1 Favors acknowledged the turnaround, saying “On Monday I played a terrible game. I feel like I kind of let my teammates down. Tonight I wanted to come out and be aggressive. We knew we were playing a good team, so we just wanted to come out and play hard.”
I think perhaps more impressive was the Jazz’s offense coming out of the gate: the Jazz’s ball movement was much improved to begin the game. In particular, Trey Burke began the game by accumulating 7 assists on the Jazz’s first 12 made shots, which led to Corbin playing him for the first 15 minutes of the game. It looked really good, and for a while, the Jazz simply passed the ball around the vaunted Memphis defense to get easy looks inside.
3. Despite the defense, I worry about Memphis in the playoffs.
Memphis’ top 3 wing rotation of Courtney Lee, Tayshaun Prince, and Tony Allen combined for just 4 points tonight on 2-13 shooting, getting to the line a combined 0 times, and again, all together, had just 1 assist. That kind of production from a team’s top wing players means that it’s just incredibly easy for a defense, especially one that gets a long look at scouting, to just sag off those players. A playoff team’s wing defenders could easily help onto Memphis’ big three of Conley, Randolph, and Gasol without being punished severely.
It’s unfortunately evocative of two Jazz teams in recent memory: the 07-09 Utah Jazz, in which the Lakers simply didn’t defend Ronnie Brewer and Andrei Kirilenko for large stretches and dared Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer to beat them singlehandedly. They couldn’t. Relatedly, the 11-13 Jazz had large stretches during which the team’s guard rotation, featuring a rotating cast of Jamaal Tinsley, Earl Watson, Randy Foye, and Raja Bell simply couldn’t score, again allowing teams to focus in on the Jazz’s two talented big men. It’s not a winning combination.
In the playoffs especially, countermoves become so important. For example we saw the emergence of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard for San Antonio last offseason simply because the Spurs had to go to those guys due to the predictive defense of the Heat (and, to a lesser extent, this Memphis team). I’m not at all convinced Tayshaun Prince, Tony Allen, and Courtney Lee have that potential in their games.