The Jazz played their best game of the season. Not simply best outcome, best played game. They looked really good, so there’s a lot to say.
The Jazz did more than out-defend the Bulls, perennially as good a defensive team as there is in the league. They pillaged them, and on their home court no less. That’s right, pillaged. The Bulls’ numbers attest to the sheer carnage.
First half points: a season-low 32.
Total points for the game: a season-low 77.
First half FG%: season-low 28.3%.
FG% for the game: season-low 33.3%.
FTA: 20, tied for 6th lowest on the season.
Assists: 17,tied for 3rd lowest on the season.
Starting lineup: 13 of 49 for 26.5%.
Cap it all off with the Jazz’s 8 steals and 8 blocks (5 by way of Saint-Quentin, France) and I doubt Thibodeau has ever been more disgusted at a loss. The Jazz did to the Bulls what Thibodeau’s teams have made their foundation: competing at a high level through hellacious defense. This game, it was the Jazz torturing the Bulls offense like demons. Not pretty necessarily, but sooooo much fun to watch.
2. Favors and Gobert = Domination
It seems only yesterday that the frontcourt tandem of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert remained a tantalizing enigma. With Enes Kanter finally earning substantial playing time in a contract year, the Jazz were finally seeing what they had in their third-overall draft pick diad by starting both. The precipitous ascension of Rudy Gobert, Defensive Player of the Year candidate1, combined with Kanter’s ankle injury paved the way for a solid stretch of heavy minutes for the Jazz’s two best defenders to play together.
The results have been better than most could have dreamed, with the smothering of the Bulls an exclamation point. Favors and Gobert destroyed Chicago’s tandem of All-NBA bigs, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah2. They outscored them 33 to 14, outshot them 56.5% to 31.3%, outrebounded them 25 to 13, outblocked them 5 to 3, and outstole them 4 to 0.
The Gobert/Gasol matchup was must-watch TV. The Stifle Tower started what has been a season of staggeringly rapid progress with a strong showing in the 2014 FIBA World Cup tournament, including playing a major role in France’s 65 – 52 upset of international powerhouse Spain and its greatest star, Gasol. The Spanish seven-footer certainly remembered, and he came out of the gate aggressively, scoring 6 points on 5 shots in the quarter. But as the game went along Gasol’s effectiveness decreased as his frustration built at Gobert’s length, tenacity, and occasional flailing limb or jutting elbow. In the second half, he scored only 5 points3 while adding 2 rebounds and played barely over 9 minutes.
Favors’ dominance of Joakim Noah was less noticeable but also more complete. Noah was almost a non-factor in the game, scoring 1 point on 3 shots and turning the ball over 3 times. The player who normally stands out in games even when he isn’t scoring practically disappeared.
It is going to be nigh impossible for Quin Snyder to restore Enes Kanter to the starter slot he vacated due to injury. While the Favors/Gobert tandem is still trying to find their way on offense at times, they simply offer too much potency to neglect, particularly defensively. What this game against these players4 made perfectly clear is Favors and Gobert compliment each other in a unique way defensively. Gobert contests everything, and he does so with every ounce of energy and length he has. That type of play requires trust that your teammates have your back, particularly your frontcourt partner, who is left to box out and defend the area you vacate. In that role, Favors owned the court, making the desperate and often wild shots the Bulls shot trying to avoid Gobert their only shot. This pairing is extremely dangerous.
3. Don’t Give Up on Trey Burke Yet
This season has been rough for the second-year lead guard at times; other times, it has been brutal. Arguably, the best thing about Burke’s season has been his demeanor in the face of consistent poor play and often vociferous criticism from fans and media. But maybe a player who shoots better under pressure situations needed just such heat to get going – and recently, Trey Burke has gotten things going.
In the Jazz’s last six games, Burke is averaging 17.8 points and 5.2 assists. He isn’t scorching the net, exactly, at 38% from the field, but in four of those games he shot 40% or better, easily his best stretch of the season. As for any who may suggest the diminutive Michigan product with the poker face isn’t a significant contributor to the Jazz’s ability to win, now and likely into the future, consider that in 4 of the last 6 games he’s scored 17 points or more and the Jazz have won all 4.
– Gordon Hayward had the game I would like to see from him every night for the next six years. 18 points on 14 shots and 6 of 7 at the FT line, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 blocked shot while holding Jimmy Butler to 16 points on 5 of 13 shooting. Just as important, he set the tone early for a young team with a history of getting behind early. His 10 first-quarter points were essential to the Jazz’s ability to build enough confidence to dominate this game.
– Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert connected beautifully in one high/low post set. With a defender fronting him, Gobert fought his man away from the basket, providing plenty of room for a lob into the post, which Favors delivered perfectly resulting in a slam dunk. Not only are these two the team’s best defenders, but they are the team’s best-passing rotation bigs as well.
– The Bulls’ starting backcourt was simply awful, no other way to say it. Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich managed only 3 of 20 shooting for 7 points, all from Rose and all but one coming in a third-quarter stretch of several plays where Rose attacked the rim with a tenacity and speed that reminded of his former self. But if this season is any indication, that MVP-caliber player is gone for good. The rest of the game, Rose continued a stretch of ice-cold shooting that has plunged his season FG% below 40%.
– In addition to the statistically verifiable signs of Trey Burke’s waking game, this game showed how determined he is to play in the interior of the defense. Numerous times Burke penetrated or started to do so and when cut off either hesitated before pressing forward again, looped under the hoop then back into the paint (ala Steve Nash), or simply shoved his backside into his defender while keeping his dribble and refusing to budge. Snyder’s insistence that his team break the paint then take advantage of a compromised defense is registering with Burke.
– The Jazz did not allow 20 or more points in the first three quarters, and the Bulls only managed that in the fourth because Snyder emptied his extremely depleted bench.
– Trevor Booker was great with 15 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 blocked shot in only 22:47 minutes. He matched the production of Taj Gibson (15/6/1/1), Chicago’s super-sub.
– Rudy Gobert had a tip-in dunk off his own miss that was one more play that reminds me so much of a bunch of 13-year-olds playing on a 8 foot rim, where jumping high is just overrated.