What Makes an Exceptional (or Exceptionally Bad) Quarter?

December 11th, 2015 | by Clint Johnson
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

The Jazz’s 29 to 11 first quarter domination of the Knicks was, metaphorically speaking, a ritualized slaughter. It summoned ghostly memories of Vivint Smart Home Arena’s past lives as an altar where visiting teams went to die. The Jazz showed scripted precision, like such ruthless dispatching of an opponent was routine, even rehearsed. The night ended in ecstatic celebration with free meat1.

For a 10 – 10 squad coming off more close losses than any team in the league last season, such periods of dominance must feel exhilarating — just as the 22 – 33 first period skunking at the hands of Kings the previous night must have felt dispiriting. Every team experiences highs and lows of competitive flow, makes runs and tries to withstand them. But knowing how a team makes or allows such spurts enables them to increase the former while tamping down the latter.

What do the Jazz do in quarters where they dominate or are dominated? Looking at the roughly 20 percent of quarters this season where Utah experienced the greatest positive and negative point differentials, which patterns jump out?

The Jazz Play Defense. Duh.

The offensive difference between the Jazz’s best and worst quarters is sizable at nearly eight points per game. The defensive difference, however, is 11. That’s more.

The Jazz Are Good More Often Than Bad, But They Do Bad Pretty Good

In their 14 most dominant quarters this season2, the Jazz outscored opponents by an average of 8.6 points. Conversely, their heads have been handed to them in 13 quarters by an average 9.8 points.

The greatest disparity swings the frequency the other direction, unfortunately. The Jazz have been outscored by ten or more in five quarters this season3 while outscoring their opponent by double digits four times4.

Quin Be Doing Something at Halftime

Eight of the Jazz’s best quarters have come in the second half, including five in the fourth quarter. In contrast, nine of their most anemic quarters spawned in the first half, with five coming in the second quarter5.

Gotta Love the Long Ball, or at Least, It Better Love You

Greg Popovich’s grousing not withstanding, the three point shot is revolutionizing NBA basketball. While it only makes sense that teams going hot or cold from three would dictate wild disparities in quarterly scoring, I suspect the Jazz are an extreme case. Three point shooting stands out as arguably the greatest difference maker in the Jazz’s unbalanced quarters.

The Jazz shoot a staggering 33 percent better from three point range in their dominant quarters than in their dominated periods. That’s a difference between making three triples in twelve minutes or barely above one. In contrast, their opponents shoot 27 percent lower in great Jazz quarters than periods when Utah gets run out of the gym.

It’s interesting that while long range accuracy from both teams determines Utah’s outlier quarters, three point attempts only vary significantly for opponents. There is only 10 percent variance between three point attempts from the Jazz’s best quarters to their worst, a stark contrast to their opponents, who shoot 34 percent fewer threes in great Jazz quarters than awful ones.

Clearly, three point accuracy makes a massive difference in sudden swings within contests, but cutting down opponents’ attempts is also key for the Jazz6.

Who Knew Playing with the Pass Actually Works

There’s a remarkable similarity between the Jazz and their opponents when it comes to the disparity in assists from great quarters to poor ones. When the Jazz are humming, they dish out 1.97 more assists per quarter than when they’re floundering. That’s nearly a match for the 1.87 difference in assists by the opponent in those same quarters.

As a general rule, if a team is making a run with crisp passing leading to scores, that team is likely to see a notable advantage on the scoreboard — which may be a problem for a team with a leading assists man tallying only 3.3 dimes a game7.

When Favors or Gobert Go Down, So Do the Jazz

Prior to Rudy Gobert’s MCL sprain, the Favors/Gobert tandum played down a starting big in the first half due to foul trouble or injury in six games: Portland at home and at the Heat, Magic, Hawks, Mavericks, and Clippers8. Five of the team’s worst quarters of the season came in those stretches, including easily the two worst shellackings of the year: -18 quarters at Miami and Dallas.

In fact, the only game where the team didn’t give up a monster quarter with an unexpected loss of a prized big was when Favors drew two early fouls against the Clippers.

Um, Gobert’s likely gone until January…

Calling Trevor Booker, Trey Lyles, and Jeff Withey! Time to step up, boys, if you don’t want your team to have points heaped atop their heads in twelve minute increments. Everybody 6’8″ and shorter, it’d probably help if you keep hitting threes and setting the table for teammates as well.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

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