1. The Jazz killed themselves by giving extra possessions to the Mavericks
The Jazz actually played passably on offense and defense tonight. On offense, they missed a lot of open shots: the Jazz shot just 30% on uncontested jump shots, according to NBA’s Player Tracking stats, on average, an NBA team shoots 43%. On defense, they held the Mavs to just 47.7% shooting, and 37.5% from three, those numbers are at about league average.
But the Jazz were killed tonight in the turnover and rebounding battles. The biggest issue was the turnovers: the Jazz gave up 21 turnovers, and only accumulated 8 of their own from the Mavs. Then, they allowed the Mavs to get 13 offensive rebounds to continue possessions, which were a real backbreaker to the Jazz’s defense. The Mavs had nearly half (47) of their points tonight off of either Jazz turnovers (32 points off turnovers) or offensive rebounds (15 second-chance points). On the other hand, the Jazz had just 19 such points. That’s your ballgame!
As coach Quin Snyder said, “Any time they shoot 20 more shots than you, that’s tough to overcome.”
2. Veteran tricks by the Mavs
One of the reasons that the Mavs were able to hold the Jazz to 82 points tonight were the veteran tricks used all over the floor. The Mavs, especially veterans Jameer Nelson, JJ Barea, Tyson Chandler, and Dirk Nowitzki, often defended successfully by pulling jerseys and arms as Jazz players went around screens. They would also often use impromptu screens or pulls on the offensive end, giving the ball-holding player an extra half step needed to have an open drive or shot. Obviously, these are all fouls, but tonight’s refereeing crew wasn’t calling them, and they often won’t. Using these tricks gave the Mavericks a real advantage on both ends.
I asked Quin Snyder about how to counteract these types of plays: “I think, honestly, maybe we can learn [those tricks]. That’s part of experience. That’s part of taking advantage of opportunity, to recognize those things. You’ve gotta play through that stuff, too. Whatever level you begin to anticipate, this is going to happen. You have to adjust to what they’re doing.”
Trey Burke also thought that the best course of action was revenge: “You kind of have to do it back, man. You just have to get physical back with a team like that, and just play through it. You can’t really cry to the refs, it’s not really going to help you out at all. It’s something that you just have to play through more than anything.”
John Stockton and Karl Malone were infamous around the league for these sorts of tricks that gave them a leg up on their opponent. Perhaps as the young Jazz grow into veterans themselves, they’ll pick up some of these tricks.1
3. The NBA is moving away from play calls
One interesting trend in the NBA is how coaches are beginning to prefer to not use plays at all. As Jazz fans, we’ve heard about the importance of consistent playcalling and execution for decades, now. The John Stockton/Karl Malone Jazz teams thrived on it. But today, teams are going into what’s called “flow”, in which the players essentially improvise what’s happening on the floor. Before the game, Rick Carlisle said “We prefer to play randomly as much as we can.” In other words, the one of the league’s best coaches would prefer to step aside and let his players decide what happens on the floor.
Why? Carlisle explained, “Because it’s a flowing game. When you disrupt flow with play calls, it’s just, it’s not a strength of ours. We’re better when we can play randomly and keep the game moving, keep the ball moving. It’s more difficult to defend, more unpredictable.” The Jazz, too, have said that they want to let the players play in flow, and Quin’s talked about the importance of flow sets after the Jazz come down after a missed basket or turnover.
It makes it difficult to tell, though, if brilliant plays on the floor are due to the mastermind of the coach or the players. What may look like smart play execution might just be the players on the floor reading the defense accurately. It would be appropriate, though, if the Jazz were to become the masters of improvisation.