1. Second consecutive remarkable defensive performance by Utah
After holding Portland to just 76 points on Friday (a season low), the Jazz turned around and held the world champion San Antonio Spurs to 81 points (a season low). This team is undergoing a remarkable defensive turnaround. Currently ranked 26th on the season, the Jazz have figured out, as if by magic, how to put the puzzle pieces together to become a sensational defensive team against Western Conference playoff contenders.
Tim Duncan led the Spurs with only 14 points, on 7-14 shooting. Overall, the Spurs’ starters scored just 33 points; the average NBA starting lineup scores 66. Let’s look at the Spurs’ murderers row of talent, what they average, and how the Jazz limited them tonight:
The Jazz held all but 2 of the 13(!) Spurs players that played tonight to under their season averages in points. Again, this is the 26th-ranked defense against the defending champion Spurs, who have all of their players healthy.
So how are they doing it? We asked Gregg Popovich, who said “Quin and the staff have done a great job of getting the system across and instilling the aggressiveness and physicality that’s needed to win in the NBA. They played unselfishly. They believe in each other. I thought they were tremendous, it was fun to watch.”
This isn’t just Rudy Gobert, by the way, although that definitely does help. Rudy’s averaged 27 minutes per game in the last 2 games; he was averaging 21.5 minutes per game before the trade. The 5ish minutes aren’t that much of a difference. But the Jazz’s team defense has stepped up from top to bottom.
Let’s leave it to Quin Snyder to have the last word:
“Rudy’s been very good, and he’s made an impact. It’s more than Rudy. I take nothing away from Rudy’s presence and it’s impact: it’s significant. But Dante Exum was terrific in pick and roll defense. Terrific. Elijah. Gordon had a stunt tonight… it was a big play, a timely play, because it took away a three point shot. I think Trey is working hard. Everybody’s trying to do their part. When you get that, it’s no one player. When someone is protecting you, it gives you even more energy and a sense of duty to do your job. And that’s all it is, everybody’s just doing their job.”
2. Two-game thoughts after the trade.
There’s been significant hand-wringing about the Enes Kanter trade, and understandably so: Kanter has impressed in his two games as an Thunderer, including a great plus-minus while on the floor, his statistical Achilles heel when on the Jazz.
But let’s take a step back and look at the larger picture: it really seems like everyone involved in this trade should be thrilled about it.
Time will tell how this trade works out for the Jazz, trades aren’t judged less than a week later. But there’s no reason to be upset that Oklahoma City got better too: sure, the Jazz play them 4 times, but the upgrade over the 82 total games the Jazz play seems like it might be substantial.
Furthermore, OKC’s improvement actually helps the Jazz: the pick that must be given to Philadelphia in order to start the 2-year clock on their own pick is top 18 protected this season. So if the Thunder finish in the top 12 of the league, the Jazz have more at-bats to make their pick a first rounder, as the Thunder would have to miss the playoffs for 4 consecutive years in order for it to switch over to two 2nd round picks.
In sum, as a Jazz fan, it’s okay to root for Enes Kanter and the Thunder.
3. Schedule gets easier
The Jazz have played the NBA’s toughest schedule thus far, which has helped mask their improvement despite not having a significantly better record than last season. Now, the Jazz play the league’s easiest remaining schedule, especially over the next few weeks. The next 8 Jazz games are:
That’s a really winnable schedule: Utah will be favored in probably 6(?) of those games. All of a sudden, a mini run going into the end of the season sounds very plausible for this quickly improving Jazz squad. Focus will be tested. If any of Hayward, Favors, or Gobert get injured, they’ll be completely decimated, but things are looking good now and later for the Utah Jazz.