Editor’s note: Oops. We accidentally had two different writers compose a Triple Team recap for tonight’s game… mea culpa. As a result, you get 6 whole points in what we’ll avoid calling the Sextuple Team. The first 3 are by Dakota Schmidt, the final 3 by Denim Millward.
1. Timofey Mozgov eats the Utah Jazz for breakfast.
In Utah’s early-November match-up against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which lead to a Gordon Hayward buzzer-beating jumper, the front-court duo of Enes Kanter (18 points on 8-13 shooting) and Derrick Favors (21 points on 9-13 shooting) both had their way with the Cavs’ depleted roster.
More than two months later, that fate took a 180-turn, due in large part to Cleveland’s recent addition of defensive specialist Timofey Mozgov. From the opening tip, Mozgov and the rest of Cleveland’s defense kept Utah from having any amount of success from inside the paint. Whenever the Jazz tried to cut their way into the key, the Cavs defense flocked to them like hungry hyenas.
Those initial difficulties from inside the paint prevented from the likes of Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke from having any kind of impact on the offensive end. That duo ended up shooting 5-21 from the field, which included Burke only capturing two points on 1-10 shooting.
While Mozgov’s defensive impact was extremely noticeable, he also dominated on the offensive end. No matter if it was against Kanter, Favors or even Rudy Gobert, Mozgov was a tremendous offensive force who was involved in all facets of the offense. As both a mid-range and an inside threat, Mozgov was phenomenal, finishing with 16 points and 11 rebounds (7 offensive).
2. Jazz turnovers = Cavaliers success.
Although that above statement would appear to be obvious, Utah’s turnover problem further escalated during tonight’s game. At first glance, their 17 turnovers wouldn’t appear to be too threatening, especially when considering that they currently average around 15 per game. But it isn’t every day Utah plays against a team like Cleveland, who seemed to turn every Jazz offensive mishap into an advantageous situation on the other end. Off of Utah’s 17 turnovers, Cleveland was able to create 22 fast-break points, a 16-point discrepancy that played a large role in what eventually ended up as a 14-point Cavs victory.
3. Elliot Williams solidifies his spot with the Jazz?
With only five days remaining until the end of his final 10-day contract, Elliot Williams only has a limited number of chances to showcase himself before Utah decides whether or not to keep him for the rest of the season. And in Wednesday’s game, Williams took that opportunity and ran with it in a big way.
In only 13 minutes, Williams erupted with a 10 point, 3 assist performance. The veteran guard can score from all over the court, but he was most lethal tonight from beyond the arc, nailing all three of his attempts from distance.
In a wing rotation that’s depleted with injuries to Rodney Hood and Alec Burks, Williams is making a case for remaining on the roster if he keeps on putting up performances like he did against Cleveland tonight. Burks is out for the year and Hood won’t return until after the All-Star break, and Utah’s depth is stretched to the point where any notable performance is a positive sign.
4. Jazz run hot and cold.
The Jazz began the game roughly keeping pace with the suddenly surging Cavaliers, holding a 17-16 lead midway through the first quarter. Shortly after that, it seemed as if the Jazz had switched out the basketball for a medicine ball pumped full of concrete. Utah shot just 7/21 in the first quarter and ended up trailing 31-20 at the end of the first. Despite not fairing much better shooting-wise in the second quarter, the Cavs only extended their lead by 2, and headed into the locker room with a 53-40 advantage. Despite not playing a game since Sunday, the Jazz looked fairly disinterested and lethargic, yielding several point-blank shots and alley oops and showing less resistance than Oliver Miller at a buffet.
The third quarter was when the bottom fell out for the sputtering Jazz, as Cleveland went on a 23-8 run to take their biggest lead of the game at 76-48. After Quin Snyder called a time out to try to minimize the damage, it was as if a switch was flipped. The energy and effort picked up, and the ball finally found nylon at a reasonable rate. The Jazz cut the lead to 20 by the end of the 3rd, trailing Cleveland 62-82.
The next run for the Jazz, a 19-9 run that improbably brought the Jazz back within striking distance at 93-81, was spearheaded by D-league call-ups Elliot Williams and Elijah Millsap. Paul’s little brother chipped in 12 points on 4-9 shooting, and Williams was perfect from deep, going 3-3 from three-point land and scoring 10 points in a scant 13 minutes of playing time. Utah ultimately fell 106-92.
5. A bounce-back game for Kanter.
After mustering just 4 points and 2 rebounds in Utah’s defeat at the hands of San Antonio last Sunday, Kanter was the best offensive player for the Jazz against Cleveland, pouring in 24 points and yanking down 17 boards, 7 of them offensive. After starting just 4-12 shooting, Kanter found his inner Stella and got at least a portion of his groove back, finishing just a hair under 50% from the floor and looking noticeably more confident.
It certainly can’t be easy for Kanter to be fighting his way out of a slump while simultaneously hearing the multitude of adulation and praises being heaped upon his understudy, Rudy Gobert. The Stifle Tower unquestionably generated more buzz and excitement league-wide than any other Jazz player, and the murmurings of Gobert supplanting Kanter in the starting line up are steadily growing louder.
Whether the move eventually happens or not, Kanter showing that he’s still capable of being a significant contributor offensively and in rebounding, especially against two bigs in Kevin Love and Timofey Mozgov who are no slouches on the glass themselves, is good news for everyone.
6. Williams, Millsap in for the long haul?
It would be hard for anyone to come up with a compelling argument that says Williams and Millsap haven’t not only outperformed expectations, but significantly so. With Exum continuing to face struggles expected of any rookie with his dearth of high-level basketball experience and Trey Burke having an abysmal game (2 points on 1-10 shooting), Williams came in and played some point guard for the Jazz and did an admirable job, never looking completely lost or overwhelmed by the moment and looking every bit the NBA player Utah hoped he would be. With the two incumbent point guards struggling, Rodney Hood still battling injuries and Alec Burks shelved for the year, Williams has an excellent shot at being kept for the duration of the 2014-15 season.
Millsap’s case may be even stronger. Millsap plays with an energy level reminiscent of his elder brother and possesses a so-called “three and D” skill set that is frankly otherwise in short supply on the Jazz roster. Elijah was charged with guarding LeBron James for part of the game, and was never completely embarrassed, which is a tremendous accomplishment that most other recent D-League call-ups could probably not lay claim to, were the same lofty expectations placed upon them.