The Jazz went nine long games without getting a game ball, from the “Wake Up” game on November 18, clear until the reigning champs visited on December 9.
At least the Jazz have a flair for the dramatic.
Still, the Jazz just entered double-digit win territory, which means I owe the SCH faithful another set of game ball awards. For each win, I use a combination of stats, storylines and arbitrary nonsense to deliver some metaphorical mantle candy to the Jazz player whose night had most to do with how we’ll remember that win.
In case you need a refresher on what matters when it comes to this exercise, you can read the explanation that accompanied the initial batch of game ball awards.
Now, let’s give away some Spaldings. The Jazz actually squeezed in a sixth and seventh win before I could publish, so you get seven game balls for the price of five…
Derrick had 21 & 8, but did most of his damage after the break, when he had 15. He also had to deal with Tim Duncan for a large chunk of the evening and still be the Jazz’s go-to guy. But the game ball is sometimes as much about big moments as anything else. Favors had a key layup with just over 3:00 remaining, and then a dunk less than a minute later. Those two shots and a Hayward runner provided the cushion the Jazz needed to withstand the Spurs’ final run.
Also considered: Hayward (20-7-4, the big runner with 2:00 left), Kanter (15 rebounds and a nice +13).
“I’ll tell you what,” Miami’s play-by-play guy said early in this game, “Gordon Hayward does everything.” He was very right. Gordon had 29 points on 9/13 shooting, plus seven assists and six boards. The only game in his career in which he exceeded 29-7-6 in those categories was his storied performance in last January’s OKC game1. He was also 3/3 with some BIG shots as the Jazz were extending their fourth quarter lead.
Also considered: Enes Kanter (18 points on 12 shots), Dante Exum (not The Exum Game, but 10 points on 4/5 shooting is a nice tease).
Favors’ 23-and-10 outing included eight points in a pivotal first quarter that ended with the Jazz up 12, and another seven in the third quarter then the Jazz outscored Orlando by nine. He also was a nice defensive anchor, keeping Nik Vucevic from hurting the Jazz too much, and keying a defense that limited Orlando while keeping them off the line.
Also considered: Hayward with another solid 20 point & 6 assist outing. Jazz were +22 when he played, -15 when he sat, a crazy net rating of +37. Really could have gone to either guy tonight.
This was a really tough one. On the one hand, Burks overcame a shaky first three quarters to hit his last four shots, and overall scored 13 of his 23 in the final period. On the other hand, Rudy Gobert dictated his will defensively, visibly frustrated Marc Gasol3 and grabbed a career-high 16 boards. As Ben Gaines suggested, perhaps one should get the game ball and the other the fourth quarter ball. But I can’t break my own rule: one ball per Jazz win. How will we remember this win in a month? Evan Hall said we’ll remember it as Burks’ 4th quarter explosion because, “his buckets came at all the moments when… we were about to fall to pieces.” Kris Chatelain countered that we’ll remember it as Gobert’s night: “This wouldn’t have been a game if Gasol kept going in the second quarter.” They’re both right, but I’m giving it to Burks, who also had a season high and just his second double-figure game against Memphis ever4.
Also considered: Rudy (see above). Hayward (I love that when G has 21-4-4 on 12 shots, we’re all just like, “Oh yeah, another day of work for Gordon”).
In a stretch of tough decisions, Favors made this one easy. If you’re not impressed by his line of 17-15-3-5-3, how about his DRtg of 60 for the game? Sixty! The more the Jazz get from that version of Favors, the better.
Also considered: Trevor Booker (the only other Jazz player even remotely on offensively), and Sam Hinkie for assembling that mess of a team. The Sixers really, really looked bad, especially in a 12-point first quarter and a 16-point fourth.
Trey had probably his most solid game of the season: respectable true shooting, 31% assist ratio, no turnovers, and otherwise just ran things well. He was steady for all four quarters, so while Hayward’s fourth quarter explosion5 tempted me to go elsewhere, Burke clearly earned this one.
Another difficult one. I won’t lie, I almost gave a second consecutive game ball to Burke, and nobody could have been mad if I did (see below). But the big guy gets it based on the most basic game ball criterion. A month after any win, we’ll look back at it and, without even remotely remembering the box score, we’ll refer to it as “That game when…”. The question I try to answer above all else when I dole out the award is that one: whose name follows that ellipsis? In this case, I think we’ll remember the Minny game as one of the defining games in Gobert’s trajectory. The guy had an 11-5-5 QUARTER, something nobody has done since Timmy in 20077! The overall damage: career highs of 13 points & six blocks to accompany 11 boards & one Notre Dime, all in his first career win as a starter. And, the Wolves were 9/20 in the restricted area during the 31 minutes he played, compared to 6/8 during the other 178. Game ball-worthy stuff there9.
Also considered: Burke. (On the other end, somebody had to score, and on a night when Hayward didn’t have it, Burke had his best floor game that I can remember. There were stretches where Burke’s fingerprints were on every single thing that happened, like the stretch when 14 of the Jazz’s 16 final first-half points were either scored or assisted by Burke, all while Utah broke a 33-33 tie to go to the break up six.)
Kanter has had some very nice games recently, including a couple where I’ve had him penciled in as my game ball favorite should the Jazz win. Especially while Favors was hurt, he was the offensive and emotional leader in a couple of very close games.
I’m still waiting for The Exum Game10, but he’s had some nice down payments, like his road back-to-back with a combined 22 points or his 13-point output the other night.
It’s too bad that Burks, after grabbing the GB for what might be Utah’s most impressive win so far, will not be adding more to his imaginary mantle. I’m sure we’ll talk a lot more about what his absence means to this club, but make sure you start by getting Dennis Lindsey’s thoughts here.
Finally, be ready for a potential game ball drought. Looking at the schedule and the injury situation, I’m not sure when we’ll have another five Spaldings ready to fire at you. Predictions?