1. It’s a make or miss league, and tonight, the Pacers made and the Jazz missed.
This game would have been different if the Jazz made their outside shots. The Pacers shot over 7-13 for 53.8% from beyond the arc tonight, but meanwhile, the Jazz shot just 4-23 for 17.4%. If Utah had shot their season average percentage from behind the arc, the Jazz would have hit 7 threes; if the Pacers shoot their average percentage, they would have made 4. Instead, those totals are reversed, and instead of winning 110-96, the Jazz lost 105-101. Such is life.
It’s not quite that simple, of course: the Pacers had some really open looks from 3 in the 1st quarter due to the Jazz’s aggressive rotations that meant the Pacers’ shooters were open from behind the arc. That was the Jazz’s game plan, and Quin Snyder felt that it went well until the defense failed to close out well enough.
On the other end, the Jazz got lots of open looks as well, but their relative deficit of shooters meant that the ball didn’t go in. Dante Exum was the only Jazz player with a made three for the first 47 minutes of this game. Part of this is due to the Jazz’s injury woes right now: with 3 shooting guards injured, team shooting ability is going to decrease. But fundamentally, the Jazz just don’t have the playable1 good shooters necessary to capitalize on the opportunities their offense is creating. This might be the Jazz’s biggest offensive problem right now, and it’s going to be difficult to acquire a fix: shooting is at a premium everywhere in the NBA.
2. Dante Exum made his first start tonight.
And the results were mixed: as previously mentioned, he was the Jazz’s only player remotely capable of shooting from outside, but still shot just 5-14. Worse for a starting PG, he had 0 assists, 0 secondary assists, 0 FT assists, 0 rebounds, 0 steals, and 0 free throws.2 All this in nearly 30 minutes of play.
It’s weird. Right now, the only part of his game that Exum seems to trust is his 3 point shooting and playing solid, man-to-man defense. The shooting is nice to see, and he did a great job bouncing back from starting the game 0-5 to make his line respectable. He hit two critical 3s in the third quarter, for example, leading to this reaction:
Despite the fire shown here, he’s pretty timid about going to the hoop, and he’s not really creating in pick and roll situations, mostly just resetting to the top to let someone else create. It’s like he’s the opposite of Michael Carter-Williams: Exum puts up small numbers hyper-responsibly, whereas, well, MCW doesn’t.
I asked Dante about it after the game. He responded, “Not getting any assists as the starting point guard is not good enough. It’s something I need to work on. There were just a lot of opportunities where I got it to people and they didn’t finish, or I didn’t attack enough.” We’ve seen very occasional flashes of an aggressive Dante Exum, but we need to see more.
3. An inexperienced refereeing crew hurt tonight’s game.
Tonight’s referee crew of John Goble, Mark Ayotte, and Justin Van Duyne called a really inconsistent game that elongated and hurt proceedings. It seemed as if the strategy was to let the teams play in the first half, to the point where Gobert and Hibbert’s small skirmish seemed like the inevitable result of rough proceedings. Then, they tightened up too far in the 2nd half, calling some really ticky-tack fouls that killed the game flow. In the 4th quarter especially, there were critical calls missed by the refs that gave the Pacers extra possessions or free throws that they probably didn’t deserve3.
Tonight’s crew chief, John Goble, is in his 8th year in the league, having been crew chief for just 33 games before tonight in his career. This is Mark Ayotte’s 11th season, but I thought he made some poor calls, especially on the rebounding side of things, that didn’t show well on first glance or replay. And this is Van Duyne’s first season as NBA referee.
I get why the NBA chooses to put relatively inexperienced refs in Jazz/Pacers games; these aren’t exactly high-profile affairs. But it is noticeable when they do so. In a physical battle tonight, I thought they were found somewhat wanting. Referees have good games and bad games, and while the former are unfairly rarely mentioned, tonight the officials, I felt, made some calls that they’ll want back.