1. LeBron James wasn’t himself tonight.
LeBron James has had some of his biggest games in Salt Lake City. In 2006, he accumulated 51 points in a performance so sublime that the Jazz-supporting crowd gave him a standing ovation. In 2007, he had a 32 point, 15 rebound, 13 assist triple-double performance; his 2009 33 point, 14 rebound, 9 assist performance nearly matched it. In 2010, LeBron scored 18 of his 36 points (with “just” 9 rebounds and 5 assists) in the last 3:26 of the 4th quarter, but managed to be outshone by a buzzer-beating game winner by the D-Leaguer Sundiata Gaines. In 2012 and 2013, he scored 35 and 32 points respectively on nearly 66% shooting. Entering the game, his 30.45 point per game average against the Jazz was the second highest by any opponent other than the 32 point average totaled by Michael Jordan.
Then tonight, LeBron slipped. James finished with just 13 points on 4-13 shooting, and accumulated 5 turnovers to boot. Maybe it was the 3 day layover in Los Angeles, a period that may have gotten the team out of sync, and perhaps it was the world champs coasting to some degree, especially against the team that was at the bottom of the Western Conference.
The experienced Heat seemed to all agree that it was a matter of missing open shots:
I don’t know if I’d be so confident if I were a Heatle. Yes, the Jazz made 7 more shots than the Heat did, but they also took 7 more. That was a result of Jazz 10 offensive rebounds given up compared to the Heat’s 5, as well as the Heat taking 11 more FT attempts than the Jazz, something that should only help Miami. The Heat only forced 12 turnovers against the young Jazz, far fewer than the nearly 18 per game they’ve averaged throughout the season. In short, it looked like a deficit of effort against a lower-tier Jazz team, and certainly doesn’t curtail the “The champs are coasting through the regular season” narrative that’s continued throughout Miami’s season.
2. Marvin Williams excelled again because of the Jazz’s ball movement.
Marvin Williams has had a good week for the Jazz, as he’s scored 20 or more points in the last 3 games for the team. This has come even while his Achilles has been sore, resulting in the Jazz trying to reduce his minutes. 1 He once again produced tonight against the champions, making 5 3s and 9 field goals overal for a 23 point performance that lead all scorers.
Richard Jefferson told reporters after the game that “The key for Marvin’s success is extra ball movement. If you want to know how well we’re moving the ball, look at how many shots Marvin has. That’s it, there’s no other formula.” The numbers check out. Here’s the best stat of the night: every single one of Marvin Williams’ made shots taken outside of 16 feet has been assisted. That’s 75 makes in which Marvin Williams was assisted on every one of them. That’s impressive dedication to a scheme and an offense2.
Tonight, the Jazz accumulated 25 assists, including 11 in the 1st quarter in which they jumped out to their 14 point lead. When the Jazz pass like that, it means good things for Marvin Williams.
3. Before the game, Trey Burke had a 10-15 minute conversation with Ray Allen.
I had come out to watch Ray Allen’s legendary warmup, nearly required watching for a basketball fan with any level of access. It was as good as advertised to watch Allen’s nearly perfect shooting form on display on repeat.
I wasn’t the only one with this idea. Jazz assistant coach also suggested Jazz rookie PG Trey Burke go out and watch Allen warmup from a front row seat. After Allen finished, he sat down next to the rookie and talked with him for nearly 15 minutes, an impressive show from an opponent before a game. Trey said it was a “nice little conversation” about how a consistent routine can help NBA players. Trey seemed glad to have had the experience, saying “You always like talking to vets like that. I just try to soak it all up and apply it.” A very cool NBA moment from a certain Hall-of-Fame guard.