Nets 105, Jazz 99
Like many sports-loving families, growing up my Dad and I would play pickup basketball in our driveway. By the time I reached junior high, I was tall, quick, and athletic enough to beat him handily, but I didn’t. Every game felt like a battle to the final shots* (*win by two). My Dad was still heavier and stronger, so he would back me down from about 20-feet and shoot an unblockable hook shot off our very forgiving backboard. Defensively, he would stand about 12-feet from the basket and dare me to shoot from 19’9″ (the high school and at the time college three-point line). I would make enough threes and he enough high-percentage twos (we scored by 2’s and 3’s not 1’s and 2’s like is done today which further skews the value of a three-point shot) that it would come down to who could achieve the elusive score-stop-score sequence. At that point Dad would suddenly come out and guard me, not quick enough to stay in front of me but clever enough to reach in and rip the ball away as I made my go-to dribble-drive moves which he knew.
The point is my Dad played “old man basketball.” He would conserve energy and turn it into a game of fundamentals and standstill shooting for 80% of the game, then get serious and ball out with the game on the line.
That’s what the Nets did to the Jazz last night, they beat them playing “old man ball.” For 29 minutes the Nets allowed the Jazz to shoot open threes, outhustle them for loose balls and beat them up and down the court. Then Brooklyn got serious, outscoring Utah 50-31 in the game’s final 19 minutes.
Defensively the Nets suddenly were alive, contesting Utah on the perimeter (Utah shot 7-13 behind the arc in the 1st-half and just 2-11 in the 2nd-half) and ripping the ball away from them inside (5 Utah turnovers in the 4th-quarter versus 13 in the first 3).
This pattern can be expected for an aging Nets team boasting the 37-year old Kevin Garnett, a 36-year old Paul Pierce and a $200 million backcourt that oddly exudes a vibe that they’re also in their late 30’s olds rather than the 29 and 32 year-olds Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are, respectively.
Regardless, when it came to “winning time,” the Nets turned on a switch that Utah couldn’t match physically or mentally. This was a great learning experience for the likes of Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Trey Burke – but is also problematic of being a season long cellar-dweller in the dead of winter. Opponents test the waters to see if they can get by with a B-effort before deciding to dip a toe in or wade in up to their chest. Sometimes (see Utah’s home wins over Miami and OKC wins) it bites them in the rear, but other times (GS 3 weeks ago and Brooklyn last night) it works and you can’t help but look back and wonder how much of Utah Jazz 1st and 2nd-quarters actually represent meaningful minutes when competing against teams giving marginal effort to start.
Starting from opening night against OKC when he was the only difference between a double-digit home loss and a game that went down to the final shot, Alec Burks has enjoyed a break-through season averaging 13.6 points while shooting a respectable 45% from the field and 36% from behind the arc despite just playing 27.3 minutes per game. On a Per-36 Minute basis, Burks scoring increases to 17.9 points and his free throw attempts to 6.0 per game. (By comparison Hayward, Utah’s leading scorer at 16.2 pts/gm actually sees his Per-36 scoring averages decline slightly to 16.0).
In the past three games, Alec Burks has been phenomenal – averaging 24.3 points on 60% shooting with 11.3 free throw attempts per game in just 27.0 minutes. Even more incredible, he’s the first Jazz player to post three consecutive games of 20-points all coming off-the-bench since Jeff Malone in March of 1993.
I understand why it may be preferable to utilize a gifted scorer in a 6th-man role to provide scoring punch off-the-bench. However, on a lottery bound team in a season designated by everyone as a “rebuilding year,” none of those exist with Alec. The Jazz have virtually nothing to lose in starting Burks for the remainder of the season (also maximizing the on-court time a slumping Hayward has with another scorer on the wing) and very much to gain – including a potential starting 2-guard of their future.
To Foul or Not to Foul
As anyone who watched last night’s maddening ending would know, with 32.6 seconds remaining Alec Burks scored on a backdoor cut (off a fantastic left-hand bullet pass from Trey Burke) to pull the Jazz to within 99-95. Down 4 with an 8.6 second differential between shotclock and gameclock, intentionally fouling appeared to be a no-brainer. Yet the Jazz didn’t foul. On the replay you could even see Trey Burke glancing over his shoulder toward the Jazz sideline as he guarded the ball but Ty Corbin stood there frozen as 16 seconds ticked away before the Jazz finally (mercifully) fouled. (They had a foul to give so they had to foul again to send Brooklyn to the line). The Nets made both free throws to make it a 6-point game with 14.9 seconds left.
There’s a huge difference between a two-possession game with 30 seconds left and one with half of that time. To me, a general rule of thumb is in a 1-possession NBA game, an 8-second differential is perfectly acceptable to play it out. In a two-possession game, with anything less than a 10-second differential (or lack timeouts) you foul immediately because of the old adage you can regain possession but you can never put time back on the clock.
Heck, 4 years ago Jerry Sloan opted to immediately intentionally foul in what was merely a 3-point game with a 5-second differential. The difference became an extra-possession sequence that trimmed the deficit and was culminated by Sundiata Gaines giving Jazz fans arguably the single most euphoric moment in franchise history since Stockton hit “The Shot.” Whatever your strategy, hesitancy will kill clock and kill your team’s chances and that was the case last night.
Corbin’s postgame explanation made even less sense. The bottom line is the Utah Jazz coaching staff screwed up, with their eventual decision to foul after 16 seconds of passive defense being the ultimate admission of guilt.
If the Jazz do make a deal, there are two realistic goals I’d like the Jazz to accomplish.
1.) Asset accumulation. If Utah can pawn off a Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson (unlikely) and even a Jeremy Evans (who I really like but whose bargain basement contract and off-the-bench skillset could make him very attractive to other teams) for a future protected 1st-round pick, I would do it in a heartbeat.
In the NBA, you need a star player and if you can’t sign one (thank you SLC) you either need to draft one or trade for one. To draft one you either need a top overall pick (looking unlikely for Utah in 2014) or a slew of potentially high picks in which you hope you strike oil with one. To trade for a superstar, you need to accumulate enough assets to make a godfather-type offer in the way Houston acquired a James Harden and Dwight Howard. Utah already has a slew of young talent combined with all of their own 1st-round picks plus two GS 1st-rounders. Add another one and then trust in Dennis Lindsey’s ability to draft/deal.
2.) Long-term Development. Alec Burks needs to start. Kanter (and to a lesser extent Favors) and Gobert need more minutes. If the Jazz can move one of their pending veteran unrestricted free agents (a Jefferson or Williams) who are causing a log-jam toward extending playing time for younger players who factor more prominently into the team’s future, the Jazz need to do it even if the return is only a corresponding expiring contract of a far lesser talent and/or a 2nd-round pick.
The Jazz aren’t making a surprise playoff push this season (unlike Jeff Hornacek’ Phoenix Suns). The Jazz vision has to be a 4-5 year window in which 2013-14 season is used to maximize the team’s future not pander to pending free agents the way they did in 2012-13 that netted them nothing both short-term and long-term.
53 games down, 29 to go. In some ways the season feels like it’s taking forever and in other ways there are still a plethora of unanswered questions relating to the future of the Utah Jazz and dwindling time left to answer them. There has been noticeable growth and there has been substantial development, but hopefully we’ll see a lot more to fill in more of the blanks that the Jazz have not tried hard enough to fill.