Final Score: Jazz 122, Kings 101
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky and very good. For all of their struggles this season, everything came together last night as the Jazz enjoyed their biggest victory margin of the season.
Offensively Utah simply couldn’t miss shooting 54% from the field and 13-23 behind the arc to go along with 35 assists. Everyone played well, everyone passed well – and everything they tried or even thought about offensively worked.
Defensively, the return of Derrick Favors (17 pts, 7 rebs, 3 blk) set the tone. Beyond the blocks, Favors made the biggest difference playing solid fundamental low-post defense on DeMarcus Cousins where he maintained position between Cousins and the basket – forcing the Kings’ center to shoot over or through his 6-11 frame. With Favors on the floor, Cousins shot 6-13 and committed 3 turnovers. As a team defensively – Utah continued to play the pick&roll with Favors anchoring the paint similar to how they altered their approach with Kanter – dropping the big back into the lane and going over the way an Indiana or Portland consistently does.
And with all of this coming against a short-handed Sacramento team with an active roster containing considerably less talent than the now-fully healthy (and suddenly fairly deep) Jazz – the game was a total mismatch.
Forgive me for getting too technical and complex, but the offensive explosion was a consequence of three things:
1. The Jazz Were Really Good
2. The Jazz Were Ridiculously Good
3. The Kings Were Really Bad
1. The Jazz Were Really Good
9:13 3rd-Qtr – The Kings run a Isaiah Thomas/DeMarcus Cousins high screen-roll against Trey Burke and Derrick Favors. As the Jazz have finally/mercifully adjusted to – Burke goes over and Favors drops back to cut-off the lane. Thomas dribbles to the FT-line area where he pulls up to shoot and Favors leaps out at him to contest. Caught in the air, Thomas then tries an ill-advised pass cross-court to no one. Off the deflection, Trey Burke leads a 2-on-2 break where he navigates by Thomas, draws McLemore in the air and dishes a behind-the-back feed to Hayward for a two-hand dunk. Great defense leading to fastbreak opportunites capped with a phenomenal pass. That’s really good basketball.
2. The Jazz Were Ridiculously Good
By “Ridiculously Good” – I mean so good in a ridiculous way that most assuredly is not sustainable.
2:55 3rd-Qtr – Richard Jefferson handles the ball for 10-seconds where he starts on the right wing 24-feet from the basket, takes 6 dribbles as he ends up driving toward the rim the left-elbow where he banks in a running 15-footer from the angle-left against Ben McLemore. A great shot – on a night where Jefferson actually made two contested runners – but not one you should count on or expect to go in consistently. RJ shot 4-4 on 8-24 foot two-point field goals – an area where he’s shot 35.7% for the season. As a team, the Jazz shot 14-28 last night on 8-24 foot two-pointers where they have shot 35.5% from that range on the season.
It was a great performance by Jefferson – 20 points, 7-9 FG’s, 3-4 FT’s, 3-4 3pt’s, 3 assists and no turnovers including making jumpers with a hand in his face, contested runners and a contested fade-away on the right block. Duplicate that 60-70 times and you’re talking a franchise-caliber player. Now of course it’s completely unsustainable (and if you think otherwise then you should significantly raise your expectations of RJ and this Jazz team) but it added to a furious offensive onslaught that likely still would have overwhelmed the Kings on their A-game. Speaking of which…
The Kings Were Really Bad
The Kings did have a depleted rotation, but Cousins was back to his typical whiny/inefficient/bad body language mess, and Jason Thompson often appeared like he was trying to out-do DMC with his own bad body language and awful defense. A lot of last night was all Utah – but is was one of those nights where the Kings probably couldn’t have even shaved without cutting themselves.
6:28 4th-Qtr – The Kings force Utah’s side pick&roll with Trey Burke and Jeremy Evans baseline, where Burke gets caught passing out through traffic while airborn behind the backboard. His pass is first deflected by Cousins, then again by Thornton – where Burks comes down with it. The tipped ball drew the Kings’ attention so once Burks came down with it – he kicked it to Brandon Rush (who by the way liked the old 3D version of Rush – shooting 3-4 from behind the arc and 2-2 on corner threes) who drained a right-corner three. On this play, more often than not the result will be a run-out for the opponent off a turnover rather than a tip-drill turned three.
Of course you can also point at the Kings’ newly acquired absences but not only have nearly all of Utah’s wins come against a team that was missing a key player – a large majority of Utah’s ugly losses came when they were also missing a starter. Injuries are part of the game and you play with who you have and hope that’s enough to give yourself a chance to win. The Jazz beat their opponent handedly – and that’s all that they could control.
Odds and Ends
- The Jazz recorded their highest point (122) and 3pt-FG (13) totals since 12/7/12 against Toronto (131 pts & 13 3pt-FGs); the Jazz made 14 3pt-FG’s at Toronto 11/12/12 although that came in a 3OT game; the last time Utah made over 13 threes in a regulation game was at Washington on 1/17/11 where they shot 14-27 from behind the arc.
- Utah’s 35 assists were the most since they had 37 in the 2010-11 season-finale against Denver (that included a 34-point performance by rookie Gordon Hayward that still marks his career-high)
- How rare are 35-assist games? In the Ty Corbin era extremely rare with only two – both of which came in the latter part of his initial 2010-11 season. Under Jerry Sloan they were more common – with six games of 35 assists or more in 2009-10, two in 2008-09 and six more in 2007-08.
- In Derrick Favors’ last 15 games he has shot 56.6% from the floor raising his average to 51.8% on the season. In his last 11 games he has shot 77.8% from the foul line – upping his season average to 66.3%.
- In Alec Burks’ last 8 games, he is averaging 16.6 pts, 3.6 reb, 2.8 ast, 1.6 to’s on 52% FG’s, 82% FT’s and 69% 3pt in just 29 minutes per game. Per-36 that equates to 21-points per game.
The Final Word
At 4-19 and just entering the meat of their schedule, this was precisely the type of win the Jazz needed to re-energize and rebuild their confidence. You could see in the postgame interviews the relief and enjoyment the players felt following a rare victory. While their sheer production and efficiency is unlikely to be reached on a consistent bases (if ever again this season), the game did contain several positives that continue to build on recent trends.
Favors again played very efficiently on offense to compliment his interior defense that now allows him to anchor the paint rather than chase players out on the perimeter. Alec Burks is shooting extremely well (“red hot” as Boler says every game) and scoring at a terrific rate as he’s now seeing a more consistent role off the bench. Trey Burke continues to play point guard beyond his years making nearly all the right reads in the pick&roll and in transition situations. Enes Kanter (who unfortunately is back in the “playing time = 48 – Favors’ PT” situation) has regained confidence in his ability to score the ball both in the post and on the mid-range pick&pop. Marvin Williams has extended his career year shooting the basketball from the perimeter. Brandon Rush is looking healthier to the point he might now be a must-play because of his shooting ability.
It’s far too early to hang your hat on the Jazz’s 4-1 record with Marvin Williams in the starting lineup (especially when you consider Utah’s opponents) but it’s definitely clear the Jazz are now a lot closer to resembling a competitive NBA team with Burke, Burks, Hayward, Favors, Marvin and Kanter all playing well in spurts. Against the Kings they (along with the rest of the team) all played well in unison. Last night was a time to enjoy the Jazz’s success – and in the next 7 games before Christmas we’ll learn how much of that was sustainable.