1. The Utah Jazz are a FORCE right now.
They’re the youngest team in the NBA.1 They start 2 rookies.2 Their old starting PG and new 6th man, Trey Burke, can’t buy a basket right now.3 They have 7 rookies on the roster, and among the other 7, nobody has more than 4 years of NBA experience. Tonight, the Jazz gave over 102 minutes to players who hadn’t played an NBA minute before this season, not even counting garbage time. Those players4 all have a sub-10 PER. They had the worst defense in the league last season, and through Christmas, had the 3rd worst defense in the league this year. They only have one shooter (Gordon Hayward), who has shot above the NBA average from beyond the 3 point line this year. He had a bad back, and was questionable to play earlier today. Oh, and they have a rookie head coach. The Jazz should not work.
But they do. Tonight, they defeated the 43 win Houston Rockets. They never trailed. They won every quarter. They never allowed Houston back into the game with a run at any point. They forced James Harden, this season’s points leader, to just 15 points on 13 shots in 34 minutes of play. They prevented any Rocket5 from making more than one three, each, as if it were a personal affront to the Jazz every time someone in red made an outside shot. They bullied the Rockets on the boards: getting 22 offensive rebounds compared to the Rockets’ 29 defensive ones.6 Gordon Hayward put up 29 points on 17 shots, and also set up the rest of the offense with 7 assists, on a bad back. And Rudy Gobert, a 2nd year Frenchman drafted #27 just 21 months ago, put together a 1st quarter double-double, and accumulated 18 rebounds in the 1st half. Neither stat has been accomplished by any other player in the NBA this season. Gobert’s point total also set his career high (19), as did Rodney Hood’s (20).
And sure, you want to say, ‘Well, the Rockets were on a back to back. They don’t have Dwight Howard. Maybe pump the brakes on the hype.’ But this game absolutely fits in with what the Jazz have done since the All-Star break. They’ve won 9 of 11 games since then. They’ve beaten every single playoff team they’ve played in that stretch: first Portland, then San Antonio, then Milwaukee, then Memphis, and now Houston. They have the best defensive rating in the league since the All-Star break, and are lapping the field so much in that category that they actually lead the league in average DRtg even if you stretch it all the way back to January 22nd. And despite the spacing issues, the Jazz have been pretty good offensively, with Hayward and Favors leading the way with over 18 PPG each since the deadline.
Young teams are not supposed to do this. The Utah Jazz, with naive stubbornness, refuse to accept that. They’re making a statement.
“Our time is now.”
2. Jazz matched Rockets’ small lineups with a creative look of their own.
One of the things that could have derailed the Jazz in tonight’s game is the very small Houston lineups that they like to throw out on the floor, especially when they need to make a run. Last night, against Portland, for example, they put together a 12-2 run with a Beverly/Ariza/Harden/Brewer/Jones lineup that almost stole the game for them. And even when they do have size, their big men are not traditional big men, but instead can shoot the 3 and space the floor. It was, on paper, a difficult matchup for the Jazz’s 2-big core of Favors and Gobert.
But the Jazz responded well in two ways: first, they used their overwhelming size advantage against Houston’s normal lineups to force such a rebounding advantage that McHale thought that there was no way they could afford to go smaller. As noted above, the Jazz beat the Rockets on the glass 57-37 tonight, and even that somewhat understates their dominance. Credit goes to Gobert and Favors here for capitalizing on that advantage.
Secondly, the Jazz pulled out a rare bird by using a small lineup of their own to end the 1st half to great success, ending with a Exum/Hood/Ingles/Hayward/Gobert lineup that went on an 11-2 run. That’s not a look that Quin Snyder has used often this year, so it was promising that it worked so well tonight against the Rockets, even in limited time.
3. Okay, let’s just do some highlights.
We’ve earned it, right? Your team plays great, you just want to see some sweet, sweet highlights. Let’s do it.
Rudy Gobert block:
Rudy Gobert dunk and salute:
Quin Snyder adds his thoughts: