1. In the second half, the Jazz fell apart both offensively and defensively.
The Jazz took a 16 point lead into halftime of this one, having both out-executed and out-hustled the Rockets on both ends of the floor. But in the second half, Houston took a much different approach. The Rockets returned to their incredibly successful pick and roll game, getting James Harden and Dwight Howard 16 and 12 points respectively between them in the second half. This might have been expected from two NBA stars as elite as Harden and Howard.
Unexpected, though, was the Jazz’s total collapse on offense. The Jazz scored just 37 points in the second half after scoring 54 in the first. Worse, the Jazz had just 1 assist in the second half, coming after the Rockets had already extended an 11 point lead on the reeling Jazz. “Jazz basketball”, or at least the ideal thereof, involves lots of passing to open cutters leading to many assists for all involved. That was’t the case in the second half. While the Jazz’s media guide promises me that the Jazz have had 0 or 1 assists in a half “many times”, it hasn’t happened since before 2000, when basketball-reference.com’s play-by-play data begins. Corbin used a lack of “energy” as the reason behind the second half display, the nonexistent ball movement in the half suggests more was at fault with Utah’s quick slide.
2. Alec Burks’ on-ball defense has really improved.
Alec Burks has struggled so far defensively in his NBA career. I highlighted his tendency to get caught up in screens here, but there have been other struggles as well. But during the minutes he played against James Harden, he showed a pretty remarkable ability to stay in front of Harden, preventing any drives and frustrating Harden into passes or bad shots. Coach Ty Corbin agreed. When asked about it, Corbin responded “I think he’s getting better. He’s fighting, and that’s the main thing. His posture’s getting better, and when he’s playing a guy like James Harden, how he has to stay connected to him, stay down, and play throughout the play… He’s getting better at those angles.” Burks still struggles with off-ball defense, especially when getting run through a gamut of screens, but his on-ball defense gives Ty Corbin an option to play him against the league’s superstar wings.
3. Francisco Garcia and Richard Jefferson’s battle was fun.
No, it’s not a critically important battle amongst NBA stars, but Francisco Garcia and Richard Jefferson displayed some aging-veteran flavored animosity during tonight’s game. In the first half, Jefferson was going up for a layup when Garcia fouled him hard from behind, cutting down on Jefferson’s shoulder. Jefferson retaliated with a little push, earning him a technical. Then, in the second half, Jefferson exploited Garcia’s poor exterior defense by driving on Garcia despite his own slowing first step. On one play, Garcia again fouled Jefferson on a drive, knocking the Rocket wing to the floor. The TV timeout came next, and as Jefferson walked to the bench, Jefferson took a look back at the floored Garcia. For his part in the same timeout, Garcia snapped somewhat, throwing his towel to the ground and clapping multiple times in frustration. The two could be seen talking to each other on the court for much of the game.
I asked Richard about it after the game, and he brought up the years of experience the two have as opposing NBA wings. “You think it’s chippy,” Jefferson said, “but if I push him or he fouls me hard, that’s just a level of respect we have for each other.” Jefferson, for his part, led the Jazz with 18 points, whereas Garcia finished with 3 threes and 12 points total.