Final Score: Trailblazers 105, Jazz 94
The Jazz did so many things well last night – much of the focus belongs on them:
- Utah’s pick&roll defense was impressive – at times looking as good as it has all season.
- Alec Burks played perhaps the best 24-minutes of his NBA career.
- Trey Burke did an impressive job taking what the defense gave him on the pick&roll.
- Enes Kanter showcased his offensive arsenal – scoring on the pick&roll, pick&pop as well as on 1-on-1 face-up drives against Robin Lopez.
Ty Corbin even made some smart moves, such as with 3:03 remaining in the 2nd-Qtr. After two three-point plays where Wes Matthews over-powered Burks inside, Corbin wisely switched Hayward onto Matthews and put Burks on Batum – who doesn’t enjoy the same strength advantage over Burks.
Alas by game’s end Ty couldn’t seem to get out of his own way and at the conclusion the discussion once again settled around his decision-making – notably playing the struggling Andris Biedrins and Mike Harris ahead of 7-2 shotblocking rookie Rudy Gobert and then sitting Alec Burks for the final 8 minutes of the 4th-quarter. The more things change…
Utah’s Screen-Roll Defense
With Kanter starting at center, the Jazz went over the screen while keeping Kanter back in the lane to defend the pick&roll. This minimized the number of times Portland could take advantage of Kanter’s footspeed while also keeping their 6-11 center in position to clog the lane.
The results were impressive. Portland entered the game averaging 23.1 three-point attempts and 18.9 two-point attempts between 16-24 feet. Last night, the Blazers attempted 19 three-pointers and 27 two-point field goals between 16-24 feet.
With less than 90 seconds remaining, the Jazz held the NBA’s #1 offense that averaged 106.2 points per game to just 97 points, before a Batum 25-foot heave resulted in a mini 8-2 spurt to close.
Here are examples of Utah’s success and failure defending Portland’s pick&roll. When watching, focus you attention primarily on the Jazz player guarding the screener (Kanter/Evans/Harris).
The only consistent success Portland saw against Utah’s sinking bigs were on LaMarcus Aldridge pick&pops, where Utah gave up open 20-footers that Evans and Kanter were out of position to contest due to the depth of their positioning. (Even on Batum’s layup – Kanter had Lillard cut-off and no place to go but RJ was caught ball-watching on the backdoor layup) Conversely, Portland’s most significant pick&roll success came when Utah’s bigs did show out hard – often when Evans was matched up against Aldridge. The difference between the two styles of coverage was giving up 20-foot jump shots and giving up layups.
To illustrate why having your bigs show out hard is ultimately flawed – understand Jeremy Evans is one of the better run&jump athletes in all of the NBA and even he could not effectively show out on a guard 22-feet from the basket and then recover in time to prevent Aldridge from rolling down the lane. Some encouraging progress has been made in Utah’s screen-roll defensive strategy, and hopefully more is on the way.
In 24 minutes of play, Alec Burks scored 20 points on 8-11 shooting and 4-4 from the FT line, continuing his recent stretch of outstanding play. In the last 6 games, Burks is averaging 16.0 pts, 3.8 rebs, 3.3 ast, and just 1.7 turnovers on 47% FG shooting, 83% FT’s and 45% 3pt. He also has a +/- of -8 in those games – impressive considering the Jazz as a team are -49 in those games.
His pull-up game was there as was his drive game where he was able to convert his hang-and-contort finishes that have become his trademark. In the 4th-Qtr, Burks sat on the bench from the 8:44-mark until just 0:22 remained. While this seemed odd and illogical, to me it wasn’t any more bizarre than opening night when Burks was inexplicably subbed out after having a hand in every Utah point in a 20-8 Jazz run that forced OKC to call for time.
When Derrick Favors scored 23 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in three quarters and then never saw the floor again in a loss last March in Milwaukee – it seemed strange and frustrated me to no end. Tonight, the substitution patterns almost felt normal in a strange, sad way. Nevertheless, it’s great to see Burks playing so well – regardless of how many minutes he gets.
Following last week’s loss to Indiana, Trey said afterward he was surprised by the Pacers’ pick&roll defense – which to me spoke volumes about Utah’s coaching staff. Last night – against a team that defends high screen-roll utilizing similar coverage – Burke looked prepared and terrific.
9:20 1st-Qtr – Burke drove right and got great depth in the lane before lofting a little 8-10 foot floater over the big (dropping back into the lane).
6:29 1st-Qtr – Burke comes off the pick showing a pull-up mid-range jumper but at the last instant dished to Kanter rolling down the lane for the layup. Forcing Portland to play him for the shot resulted in Portland’s big lunging out at the last second to contest – opening up the lane for Kanter.
4:46 1st-Qtr – Pull-up 18-footer with the big dropping off.
0:14 2nd-Qtr – Another floater with the guard trailing and the big sinking back.
9:22 3rd-Qtr – Side pick&roll with Jefferson where Batum dropped back (as the big normally would) but Burke was able to get around him and into the lane where he collapsed the defense and kicked-out to Kanter for an open jumper.
3:52 4th-Qtr – Pull-up 18-footer with Lillard contesting from behind.
Against the Pacers 4 of Burke’s 5 baskets came in transition. Last night 4 of Burke’s 5 baskets came via the pick&roll. The transition baskets will be there for Burke when the Jazz can/try to run, but seeing him read and react to NBA pick&roll defenses as a young player has been impressive. He saw a lot of different pick&roll defenses in college, but adjusting to NBA defenses is a big step, yet one he’s making quite well.
After appearing to lose all confidence in his abilities when he was benched for 4 games, Kanter had one of his more impressive offensive performances of the season.
8:44 1st-Qtr – Shot-fake from right-elbow and hard drive past Lopez for a dunk.
6:25 1st-Qtr – Pick&roll layup from Burke
4:10 1st-Qtr – Right-elbow jumper off side screen-roll (forced baseline) with RJ.
4:57 2nd-Qtr – Faced-up Lopez on right-baseline and drove to the basket for a pump-fake layup.
3:53 2nd-Qtr – Facing up Lopez from 20-feet, Kanter put the ball on the deck twice before hitting an impressive fadeaway in the lane.
9:19 3rd-Qtr – Catch&shoot 20-footer from Burke.
7:07 3rd-Qtr – Jab-step face-up jumper from 20-feet over Lopez.
6:07 3rd-Qtr – Tip-in.
8:17 4th-Qtr – Hard drive on Freeland down the lane where he used a pump-fake to draw contact and finish for a 3-point play.
Yes Kanter still needs to rebound much better and yes it would be nice if he could get to the line more – but he played some of his best team defense of the season (being utilized in a scheme that better suits his abilities) and is showing the offensive repertoire he did in the preseason. Considering where he was 10 days ago, 20&10 against the Pacers and now 19 points versus Portland is definitely more cause for optimism.
Odds and Ends
- With Favors missing the past two games, the only Jazz players to play in all 23 games are Burks, Hayward and Jefferson.
- Quote of the Night: “Thin front line tonight – with Favors being out of the lineup, Kanter’s really gotta step up. We’ll see some Gobert tonight too.” -Matt Harpring, pregame.
The Final Word
Without Derrick Favors the Jazz gave good effort and were able to stay within striking distance of Portland for much of the game. There’s no shame in a hard-fought loss to the Western Conference’s best team when you’re down 2-rotation players – and the Jazz showed did a lot of things well.
With that said, missing Derrick Favors and Marvin Williams shouldn’t result in overrating the ability of Andris Biedrins to positively affect a game. It shouldn’t result in their best and most consistent scorer sitting for most of the 4th-Qtr. This is the problem the Jazz face after keeping Ty Corbin for arguably one season too long. Even when he makes some positive adjustments and even when his team gives a solid effort while shorthanded, the postgame discussion still reverts back to his questionable decisions and substitutions (partially because he still makes questionable decisions and substitutions, and partially because with his track record he seldom receives the benefit of the doubt).
Considering Corbin has been questioned by former players and national media experts – I’m not sure any critical tweets from various sources last night should come as a surprise – but at the same time losing breeds dissatisfaction and the Jazz are doing more losing than anyone in the league. At some point, the little things you do right don’t matter if you can’t ever seem to get the big ones correct. After two and a half seasons and now over one-fourth into the current season, that time could quickly be approaching for many with vested interests in the Jazz.
It may not seem entirely fair to Ty Corbin, but he is 199 games into his head coaching career. By comparison look at the man on Portland’s bench. Terry Stotts – a front-runner for coach of the year – coached just 137 games with the Hawks and 146 as head coach of the Bucks (where he made the playoffs in his first season) before being let go/fired. Professional coaches are ultimately judged by results, and when you fail to produce enough of them you open yourself up to criticism – no matter how many little things you may have done right.