The Triple Team: Three Thoughts on Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets 3/12/2015

March 12th, 2015 | by Andy Larsen
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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:

Andy Larsen

Andy Larsen

Andy Larsen is the Managing Editor of Salt City Hoops, the ESPN TrueHoop affiliate for the Utah Jazz. He also hosts a radio show and podcast every week on ESPN700 AM in Salt Lake City.
Andy Larsen

5 Comments

  1. cw says:

    You are right in that it seems like the jazz shouldn’t be winning this many games. I keep waiting for them to come to earth and it’s not happening. I think it is the result of two things. One, Quinn Snyder is a good coach and is using what he has well. And two, Rudy Gobert, obviously. The Jazz have not improved offensively, at least going by the statistics. But their defense has gotten insanely better and Rudy is, at the very least, the catalyst for this. Rudy is an uber-elite rim protector, that lets Favors play power forward where he is a very good defender. Their defense pushes the opposing offense outward, crowding things up, and making it much easier for the perimeter guys to do their job. Plus Exum seems pretty good on the ball.

    And then when you are holding teams to 87 points per game, it takes a lot of pressure off the offense. It’s synergy. It all starts with Gobert. THat said, teams go on streaks like this. Locke was wondering if the jazz are next years Hawks, but they also could be last years Pheonix.

    I think this offseason is going to be really interesting. Gobert’s emergence seems like it pushes up the timeline. Does lindsey start using some of those first round picks to make trades, some of that cap space to sign FA? A few vets who can shoot would go a long way on this team. Or will they hold to the current course and see how the Burkesses, and Hood develop?

    I guess I might do the latter, becasue of the cheap contracts those guys have. Plus, the Jazz still have plenty of time. As good as they are playing do they seem like they are ready to contend?

    • Brandon says:

      The defense starts with Rudy, obviously, but it also starts with -Kanter. And I say this as a guy who liked Kanter’s offensive game to a point. But his defense was not up to par and it led to too many points given up because he was always a weak PnR defender.

      You also mention Exum and Favors, but our wing defense has been superb as of late too. Lilsap is an good-great defender (see what he did to Ginobli). Hayward is above average. And both Ingles and Hood have shown improvement over the season as well. There is much more communication out on the floor because these guys seem to take it personally if a team starts getting hot offensively. That attitude has to stem from Rudy.

      Offensively, what I think is gained from -Kanter is ball movement. At the time of the trade, didn’t he only have 5 assists all season with the Jazz? The ball would go into him and would not come out often, a la Jefferson. Gobert is a much more willing passer (and that dribble then pass to Hood was so awesome it made me cheer out loud with two asleep kids). The ball is now whipping around out there because players know the ball is not going to stagnate with anyone, including Hayward. Some of those passes last night were so good that it reminded me how good a movement offense can look.

      • cw says:

        You are right about Kanter, both on offense and D. It will be interesting to see if the Jazz offense improves statistically with him out. If I had to bet, I would say it wouldn’t, at least not much. Mostly becasue Gobert’s offensive output is pretty low.

        And I forgot about Milsap, though I wonder if he is on the floor enough to give him a whole bunch of credit for the crazy Jazz D.

        And Milsap, Favors and Gobert are the only ones that have any kind of decent defensive ratings. On RPM, Hayward is the next best defender and he comes in at 143, well behind guys like SPencer Hawes and Ben Mclemore. So, I’m going to stick with the theory that it’s Rudy and Favors shutting off the key that has made our perimeter defenders suddenly look good. Not that schemes and chemistry aren’t helping also, but I think if you take Rudy out and move Favors back to guarding centers, the D is going to fall back to the high teens or low twenties.

  2. Jimmy says:

    “Deal with it” gif FTW. Nice.

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