1. Unusually, it was perimeter excellence that led to success for the Jazz.
The guard line for the Jazz generally haven’t been stellar scorers this season. Joe Ingles, the team’s starting SG due to injury, came into tonight’s game averaging 3.5 points per game. Exum averaged 4.9. And even though Trey Burke averaged 12.4 points per game, it was on 37% shooting from the floor, not exactly ideal.
So you can’t fault Brooklyn for their game plan tonight: fall back deep into the paint, guard Utah’s vaunted big men, and make the perimeter shooters beat you. The players mentioned above, who generally average 20.5 points per game, got 48. Hayward added 24 points1. All in all, the Jazz perimeter players accounted for 79 of the Jazz’s 108 points tonight.
Jingles explained: “They were sinking in the key bigtime when they helped, and the guards made great passes out of it when they read that. The bigs, when we did get it inside, read how deep they were in the key, and they kicked it out.” Incredibly, even despite the Nets’ focus down low, the Jazz still outscored them in the paint 42-30. That plus a 39-15 shellacking from beyond the arc tells you exactly how the Jazz won this game.
2. The defense was good too, though I think a lot of it was Nets’ self-destruction.
The Jazz held the Nets to just 73 points in tonight’s game, and while the pace wasn’t super fast, Utah still allowed only 79.3 points per 100 possessions. This is very good: that ranks 13th of any team defensive effort in a game this season, and 7th amongst games in which the Sixers weren’t the opposing team. Quin Snyder credited the Jazz’s unit working together “We are playing more as a group. As a result when you trust each other more you can be more active and more aggressive because you feel like someone’s got your back.”
That being said, I think a lot of it was the Nets’ shot selection being pretty abysmal. They took 28 shots from midrange tonight, they only made 9. They took 10 shots from the paint-but-not-restricted-area zone, they made 3.
Lionel Hollins had a great quote tonight: “I keep saying it, ‘We can’t shoot 38 percent.'” Lionel, the league averages 39.5% from those shots between the arc and the restricted area. When you take more than half of your shots from those zones2, you’re going to have a bad time. Just saying that “We can’t shoot 38 percent” isn’t going to help your team.
3. The point guard switch seems to be working out.
Quin Snyder’s decision to move Dante Exum into the starting unit has paid dividends early. While we’re just 2 games in, Exum’s proving to be an effective spacer point guard, shooting 3s and doing just enough penetration off of screens to force rotations. Meanwhile, Trey Burke is playing well off the bench, including 15 points in the 2nd quarter tonight. The move makes some sense, as Trey can use his status as a possession-user much more effectively off the bench, when he’s taking shots from Elijah Millsap and Trevor Booker, rather than Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors.
I’m very surprised that the move happened at all, though. The Jazz have been notoriously reticent to give starting positions to young players throughout the franchise’s history: Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams started over Alec Burks and Enes Kanter for the majority of last season, and Hayward didn’t start until last season. There’s been an ethos of “the young guys have to earn their place”, and Exum had disappointed thus far this year with a sub-8 PER, though Burke hadn’t been vastly better.
Still, Burke has taken the move surprisingly well. He wouldn’t go so far as to say that he feels the bench role is best for him after the game, but he did understand why Snyder made the decision and was happy to go along with his coach’s instructions. He also felt that being on the bench at the beginning of the game, a role that he’s wildly unused to, allowed him to see what the defense was doing, and apply that knowledge when he did check in. Huge credit to Burke here for not rocking the boat, despite saying this season that he still wants to grow into an All-Star guard in the NBA.