1. Mike Malone has a bad defensive squad, and he knows it.
Ranked 28th in the league defensively, the Kings don’t exactly have a sterling reputation when it comes to defending the ball. Sacramento head coach Mike Malone knows it, too: ”We’re not a good defensive team because 1-5, we don’t guard the ball, we get beat off the dribble way too easy, we have no rim protection, and we don’t trust each other most nights.” Ouch. That’s as frank and as harsh of a description of a team’s problems as I’ve heard from a coach, but it’s accurate for the Kings, who are truly bad on that end of the floor. It showed tonight, as the Jazz were able to get essentially whatever they wanted in the second half, to the point that a frustrated Malone called 4 Kings timeouts in 12 minutes, leaving them with just 1 TO for the remainder of the game with 9:45 left.
Relatedly, the Jazz have the 29th ranked squad defensively, and Jazz coach Ty Corbin doesn’t make these sorts of statements regarding his team. Instead, Corbin focuses on areas in which his team can improve defensively, and features a more positive outlook for the future of the D. Both teams are primarily led by young players (Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins, and Gordon Hayward all came out in the same draft), so it will be interesting to see which developmental strategy works best: strict criticism or helpful hand-holding. 1
2. The “hack-a-young-Jazz-big” strategy worked well tonight.
Mike Malone may be the league’s biggest proponent of the strategy which entails fouling the worst FT shooter on the floor in order to more quickly get the ball back. Tonight, Malone started fouling with 3:16 left in the game, with his squad down 11. Rudy Gobert has shot 45% in his career so far from the free throw line2, and so was the obvious candidate for such fouling. He made just 1 of his 4 FTs. This lead to a hilarious moment after a Kings made basket as Corbin sprinted to call a TO at the same time as the Kings sprinted to foul Gobert. Corbin won the race, and inserted Kanter.
However, Malone’s trickery would not be so easily stopped, he then began fouling Jeremy Evans. Evans made 3 of his 6 shots. In the end, time ran out on the Kings as they came within 2 minutes, but in the 76 seconds of fouling, they managed 5 possessions. Without the fouls, they probably get 3 possessions at most. The Kings outscored the Jazz 8-4 during this period, and thus came within 7. As Malone explained, “We went from being completely out of the game to making it interesting.”
I know some fans hate it, but I personally find the foul game fun, as it brings to the forefront an old-school battle of wits. It’s a lot more complicated of a decision than it appears at first glance: mathematically, time remaining, opponents FT shooters, each team’s offensive and defensive abilities need to be considered. Then emotionally, how will a player respond to the pressure of being fouled, especially 2 as inexperienced as Evans and Gobert? How will a team’s defense respond to being asked to fall on their own sword? Will either coach bend, thus changing the calculus? It’s a deeper situation than it appears at first glance, and while it’s not exactly athletic, it is cerebral.
3. Not a stellar game experience against Sacramento.
I love Jazz fans. When watching and considering the best crowds in the league, Utah’s comes near the top as a result of their passion and knowledge for the sport. That being said, at some point recently, supporting the Utah Jazz fell behind supporting the local college teams for some. Booing or cheering Jimmer Fredette in Utah in 2014 is ridiculous. The kid did some amazing things for one college team 4 years ago. This is not an excuse to boo him if you are a fan of another college team3. This is also not an excuse to cheer against the Jazz when he does well. 4 It’s insulting to the actual Utah Jazz (a team which features 8-10 better players than Fredette) when you make the games about one opposing player when he checks into the game.