1. The new-look Jazz defense was dominant.
Okay, sure, maybe the Blazers were a little bit sleepy coming off of the newly extended All-Star break. But wow, that was a seriously impressive performance by the Jazz, who held Portland to well below their normal offensive output through impressive individual and team help defense. Consider the following facts:
This was made possible by a really impressive defensive effort by everyone involved. Let’s start with Trey Burke, who has been fairly maligned for his defense all year long, including by Quin Snyder. Tonight, though, Snyder sang a different tune: “Everybody who came in the game took a lot of pride [in the defense]. I thought it was one of the best defensive games Trey has played all year. I was really happy to see him compete, pressure the ball, and his pick and roll defense was really good.” If Trey can pick up the defensive effort and ability, that’ll make a huge difference for the Jazz moving forward. Trey has complained (albeit not directly, but it’s been clear who he was talking about) about Enes Kanter’s help defense more than once this season, and maybe Kanter’s absence is making all of the difference.
Gordon Hayward also earned plaudits from his coach for his off-ball defense, which helped earn him 3 steals tonight. Those help the Jazz so much, as the offense can sputter without adding in some transition looks.
I thought Trevor Booker’s energy in this game was insane: he only ended up shooting 2-9, but was incredible with his defensive effort. It seemed like he wanted his hand on the ball on every defensive possession. He picked up 2 steals for his efforts, but got many more deflections and rebounds1. He also had an incredible block on a LaMarcus Aldridge jump shot, which is a ridiculously hard thing to do: Aldridge has only had 5 jump shots blocked from beyond 16 feet this year before tonight, and only Booker, Rudy Gobert, Marc Gasol, and Anthony Davis have done it. Tonight, Booker got one with his incredible athleticism.
Rudy Gobert got the other. Gobert picked up 5 blocks tonight, despite playing just under 24 minutes. He forced Aldridge to pump fake on nearly every look, which seemed to hurt his percentages: Aldridge shot just 5-16 tonight, for just 14 points. He’s an incredible defensive player, and these final 28 games are going to be absolute must-watch with him on the floor.
2. The rebounding game was great too.
Generally, when one team shoots only 36% from the floor, that team will win the offensive rebounding battle, if only by the sheer number of missed shots available.
Not tonight. The Jazz won the offensive rebounding battle 13-3, which gave them important extra looks at the basket while preventing the Blazers from doing the same. That was a big deal, because the Jazz ended up getting up 11 more shots than the Blazers during the game. It’s difficult to lose while doing that.
The Jazz are the #1 offensive rebounding team in the league this season (by OREB%). I asked Quin after the game about how important that is to him, even though new-school coaches generally give up on offensive rebounding to prevent transition baskets:
“We want 3 guys back. It’s hard, there’s a balance between not giving up transition baskets and staying aggressive on the glass. When your big guys are running and defending, to go to the glass, it’s just hard, it takes a lot of effort. It’s something you can try to coach, but really, it’s the players. It’s guys making up their mind that they’re going to work, and it’s hard.” Credit, then, to Favors and Booker especially tonight, who got 9 offensive rebounds between them.
3. Let’s look at one great defensive possession.
We don’t do a ton of film study in these Triple Teams, but I thought this possession by the Jazz was an incredible display of 5-man rotation. This sort of passing would have killed the Jazz in previous years, but tonight, the Jazz dealt with it extremely well.
The play starts with Elijah Millsap gambling on a backside steal, helping off of Wesley Matthews. While this is a risky play, it comes with a huge payoff: if it works, the Jazz stop the Blazers from scoring and get two easy points on the other end.2 Nevertheless, it doesn’t work, and gives the Blazers a temporary 5-on-4 that they should be able to take advantage of.
However, Rodney Hood steps up and helps one pass away to Matthews, even though McCollum is open in the corner. After receiving the ball, Hood blocks off the easy pass to McCollum, and forces a pass to a seemingly open Aldridge, because Booker is helping so far to the strong side. But since it’s a long pass, both Booker and Millsap are able to quickly recover to Aldridge, double-teaming to force the pass like they did for most of the second half.
Aldridge, trapped in the corner, can’t pass to the closer Blake because, again, Burke rushes to prevent the look to the man one pass away, forcing a looping one to Matthews. Hood’s guarding Matthews now, so he looks to pass to McCollum, who seemingly doesn’t have a man guarding him. Gobert takes one step and uses his length to guard McCollum effectively, despite the mismatch. McCollum is forced to pass to Kaman in the mid post, with Booker now rotating over. In a bad offensive possession, Kaman looks to skip the ball to Blake, but Trey Burke is ready to easily steal the pass.
Throughout the play, the Jazz rotated to help one pass away, even if mismatches were created. As a result, the Blazers had to throw 3 looping skip passes during the possession, which allowed the Jazz time to guard the man receiving the ball. In the end, the Jazz took advantage of the final one to get a steal.
Incredible team defense by the Jazz, as an entire 5-man unit. Opposing coach Terry Stotts gave the Jazz’s defense some love: “You got to give Utah credit with their defense. They were very energetic, they were scrambling.” Against one of the league’s best offenses, it was just so encouraging as the Jazz enter their post-Kanter era.