Final Score: Trailblazers 102, Jazz 94
The Jazz gave one of their more impressive road efforts of the 2013-14 season, going toe-to-toe with the 36-18 Trailblazers for 45-minutes before folding late. While Alec Burks provided a scoring spark in the 1st-half and Gordon Hayward turned in a quietly impressive line (17 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists on 5-11 shooting), the two stars of the game for Utah were clearly Trey Burke and Enes Kanter.
Burke scored 21 points on 8-16 shooting from the field and 3-5 from behind the arc, while also dishing 7 assists and grabbing 6 rebounds.
Burke completely owned the 3rd-quarter, in which he scored 12 points and handed out 3 assists on a perfect 5-5 shooting, including two threes. In addition, the rookie made an outstanding steal in which he face-guarded Lillard and drifted with him along the three-point line and used his peripheral vision to deflect an incoming kickout pass, that directly led to a throw-ahead assist to Alec Burks for a fastbreak layup.
Although Burke shot just 3-8 on the pick&roll, one of his misses (a driving left-hand layup) freed up Kanter for an uncontested tip-in and another attempted floater enabled Burke to rebound his own miss and score so in reality Utah was 5-10 when he shot via screen-roll. Additionally, on mid-range pick&roll jumpshots Burke hit an impressive 3-4 – critical considering it is Portland’s intent to force opponents to take contested midrange shots while trying to minimize scramble rotations that often lead to open threes and paint points.
Burke nailed 2 of his 3 catch&shoot three-point attempts and of his 7 assists, 4 came in transition (or early offense before the defense could setup) while two others were setting the table for a Kanter jumper via pick&pop.
Burke’s a playmaker with the ability to push the tempo (if the Jazz ever try to do that) and create for his teammates but right now it comes down to making shots. After inexplicably sitting for the first 6 minutes of the 4th-quarter (in which the Jazz shot 1-11 and were outscored 14-2), he came back in the game and confidently drilled a right-wing three to pull Utah back to within 83-80. There’s no question that even as a rookie Trey Burke wants to be the guy to take and make all the big shots, and that’s a quality that will only bode well for the future as the Jazz look to him run the show over the next several seasons.
Enes Kanter tied his career-high with 25 points on 12-20 shooting, to go along with 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.
Most impressively, Kanter scored his points in a variety of ways. He shot 2-3 and scored 5 points when getting touches on the left-block. He shot 3-4 from direct opportunities via the pick&roll, including 2-3 on pick&pop jumpers. He scored 6 points on 3-6 shooting on offensive rebounds and he was a perfect 4-4 playing off-the-ball as a weakside dive/kickout man (including 2-2 on spotup mid-range jumpers).
He’s shown he can be an effective low-post scorer but doesn’t demand the ball to find ways to contribute, with his offensive rebounding and pick&pop ability helping to round out his game.
Kanter also started in place of Favors in Utah’s December-9th meeting with Portland and had an impressive game as well, scoring 19 points on 50% shooting as Utah also hung in against the Blazers before another late collapse.
Kanter’s Screen-Roll Defense
From the outset one member of the Utah Jazz broadcast team made it a point to harp on what he considered poor defense by Kanter – namely Kanter’s refusal to show out and contest a lot of shots on the pick&roll. Similar to how teams used to attack Al Jefferson in the previous two seasons, Portland made it a priority to involve Kanter in defending pick&roll as often as possible.
Utah’s strategy remained simple – allow Kanter to drop back into the lane and force Portland into taking a lot of mid-range jumpshots. Of the 41 direct pick&rolls that involved Kanter defending the screener, Utah allowed just 31 points on initial defense (not counting second-change opportunities). Of those 41 plays, Portland shot 13-34 (38.2) from the field, drew 3 fouls (resulting in 4-4 from the foul line) and turned the ball over 4 times. Most impressively, out of their 34 shot attempts only two were three-point field goals.
Obviously the Blazers missed LaMarcus Aldrige’s mid-range shooting but when Kanter was involved in defending screen-roll, Utah could not have asked for better results against Portland’s high-octane offense. One negative is how susceptible Utah leaves themselves on the offensive glass. With Marvin playing at PF, anytime their center (be it Kanter or Favors) leaves his man to help, Utah is left with a huge disadvantage trying to rebound the basketball (12 offensive rebounds for Portland tonight).
Nevertheless, allowing 31 points on 41 possessions speaks for itself. Considering there were also a handful of plays where the initial screen-roll yielded no shot so Portland continued to move the ball, admonishing Kanter’s defensive performance last night is not only unnecessary but ridiculous.
Kanter will give up points at the rim but he also did a good job staying vertical in his challenges which resulted in quite a few Portland misses in the paint (many by Lillard who is among the poorer finishers in the basket area). It’s also important to remember Kanter isn’t a shotblocking force. Jerry Sloan didn’t rant and rave on the sideline when Mehmet Okur didn’t block a shot and Kanter deserves a similar approach. What you ask for from Kanter is good positional defense where he can use his 6-11 frame to contest shots to the best of his ability, and if the ball still goes in the hoop you can live with it because he can contribute in a lot of other ways.
(Side Tangent: It’s also absurd to criticize Kanter when he leaves his man to pick up a free driver toward the rim and then gets burned because no one rotated to his man. In Jazzbasketball that’s called “helping the helper” and it’s very difficult to be a good defensive team when your defensive rotations can’t extend to that level.)
Blazers announcer Mike Rice may have said it best late in the 3rd-quarter, “Once again, Kanter has been the man in there, he’s been able to defend that rim against – and I mean everybody is dribble-driving for the Blazers – and testing him. So far he’s not done a bad job at all.”
Portland’s 4th-Quarter Huddle
One really neat thing about the Blazers telecast is Portland’s sideline reporter, Michael Holton, was able to listen in on the Blazers’ huddle during the timeout and then relay that information to the viewers prior to the start of the 4th-quarter.
Holton reported: “Well the entire timeout was spent talking about defense. Terry Stotts wants the Blazers to keep the ball on the sideline and then rotate the defense to the [middle]. They’re (Utah) turning the corner, getting all the way to the rim. He spent the entire timeout breaking down how they need to correct that.”
Some of those adjustments were noticeable on a Burks turnover (7:59 4th-Qtr) where they pushed him wide and stole the ball as he tried to come back middle but a lot of it came down to Robin Lopez closing up the middle when there appeared to be gaps in the defense.
Regardless, it’s nice to be given access to that type of inside information as the game progresses. It was reminiscent to the days of the NBA on NBC when Jim Gray would camp by Utah’s bench and report Jerry Sloan’s message to his team during timeouts.
The Final Word
Overall last night’s is precisely the type of contest you hope the Jazz have more of as the season winds down. Although Portland is in a bit of a funk while playing without LaMarcus Aldrige and an under-the-weather Nicolas Batum, the Jazz’s young core came to play and pushed the Blazers to their limit, forcing Portland to elevate their game to another level. I believe it’s those 10-12 minute stretches when opponents raise their intensity like Portland did to start the 4th-quarter that is ultimately more beneficial to Utah’s growth and development than the other 36 minutes played at the regular speed limit.
Burke, Burks, Hayward, and Kanter all had their moments on the road against a good team. At this point when you know what to expect from the coaching and other role players, that sort of thing is really all you can ask for at this point. I don’t believe in moral victories in professional sports, but if there is such a thing as a “good loss,” this was probably it.