1. Jazz avoid ignominy, first 10 game losing streak in 33 years.
Had the Jazz lost tonight, it would have been the team’s first double-digit losing streak since the 1981-82 season1. However, the 9 game streak is only their longest since 2005.
To me, the most impressive performance was on the defensive side of the floor, where the Jazz held the Spurs to just 96 points in 94 possessions. Given the state of the defense during the losing streak, I was beginning to believe that the Jazz would never be able to defend well.2But over the last 2 games, progress has been made with a 104 DRtg against the Kings, and a 102 DRtg against the Spurs. These were teams that were missing their best offensive players, but at least they showed that they were capable of a good performance on the defensive end.
In particular, I thought holding Ginobili to 3-17 shooting was a massive success, and a team effort to boot. To show this, I watched all of Manu’s field goal attempts and tracked who was the primary defender on the ball when the shot was released. The breakdown:
Overall, I thought that, while the Jazz gave up a few too many shots inside, they did a terrific job of closing out and rotating to the shooters from the outside. The Spurs shot 32 shots from outside of the paint tonight, and made just 8. Again, this team has had problems with things that are as basic as getting a hand up against shooters, so it was nice to see. They also did a nice job getting back in transition defense tonight: despite coughing up 19 turnovers, they allowed just 16 points off of those turnovers, including just 10 fast break points. The Jazz have really struggled against secondary breaks this season, so again, this represents progress.
2. The original model franchise beat the new model franchise.
Gregg Popovich has continually credited the Utah Jazz of the 1990’s as the franchise he and RC Buford chose to model the Spurs on: as a small-market franchise that played with toughness, it was a natural fit. As Popovich explained to media last year, “Whether it’s a cut, a pick or running the floor, they do everything with great energy and always have. It seems to be in the water in Salt Lake City.”
Now, after 2 seasons without a playoff birth, the Jazz are modeling their franchise after the Spurs. A recap:
Now that he’s the winning one, Popovich still had insight to add to the Jazz:
“They’re a hard-working group as far as bringing it every night. They have the kind of character that allows them to understand its their job to come every night. As they get used to the system, things are just going to get better. It takes time to put in a new system, new coach, and all that sorta thing. It’s not easy. It’s hard to win a game in the NBA.”
Popovich also said before the game that a win against the Spurs would be important for the Jazz’s growth:
“Things take time to take root. Everybody figures it out at a different time, really. Along the way, confidence is an important part of that. A win against the Spurs tonight or a win against the Clippers, or OK City, or another good basketball team, it helps the process move along. Because they’re good young players, Quin knows what he’s doing, Dennis is a great leader and really understands the whole picture, it’s going to be nothing but hopeful and successful as time goes on.”
It’s great to see Popovich being so high on the Jazz’s future, though with all of the ties to the Jazz’s organization, perhaps he has no choice. Still, it was telling that when Popovich was told that Jerry Sloan waved to him during the media huddle, Popovich actively searched the halls of ESA looking for the retired Hall-of-Fame Jazz coach.
3. Jazz attendance down, but diehards still in ESA.
There’s been some coverage about the Jazz’s declining attendance this year, especially last week as vast swaths of green seats were on display against some non-draw teams. Denver and Toronto both had announced attendances in the 16,000s, and I thought Orlando’s crowd was worse despite a much larger announced attendance number. The beat writers of other teams have tweeted about the empty ESA:
Miss old days where even 1 questionable call was enough to send Jazz crowd into apoplectic rage. Now it’s more of a half-hearted, “hey…”
— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneySAEN) December 10, 2014
If this is not a late-arriving crowd here in Utah, this won’t be much of a home court adantage at EnergySolutions Arena tonight
— Chris Dempsey (@dempseypost) December 2, 2014
And yet, in each game, the crowd was loud and got into it as the situation called for it. Despite the empty seats, EnergySolutions Arena has been loud when referees’ calls go against the Jazz, or flagrant fouls injure Alec Burks. They’ve loudly cheered as Utah makes it’s habitual third-quarter run. And tonight, as the Jazz put the finishing touches on a win over the defending champions, the fans gave a loud standing ovation to the team despite having lost their previous 9 games.
Jazz fans have one of the larger season-ticket bases in the NBA despite having the smallest market, and it’s those oft-arriving fans that they call on night after night to bring energy to the team. Thanks to those who do come for making the atmosphere one of the most exciting and fun in the league.