First, right off the bat, let's announce that we were all happy to have our guys play harder than they had the last few games. I was happy to see them hustle in the first quarter, and play together for most of the game. This was a game, despite being down by double digits for the majority of it. These are all positive signs, and I think we're relieved, collectively, to see the Jazz have any type of pulse after looking dead over the last five games. Personally, I think the greatest sign that the Jazz - our Jazz - are on the road to recovery is that I'm upset about this loss.
After the Wizards game I felt like there were a number of factors that contributed to the loss. After the Nets game I felt like they just abused our defensive flaws - a solid game plan. After the Celtics game I was upset at the lack of heart shown by the starters. I expected a loss for the Sixers game with how poorly we had been playing. I felt virtually nothing at the loss in LA. I expected it. And after they went up big and we never challenged them my reaction to the end result was as indifferent as the intensity shown by our team.
This game, last night, was much different. Our players cared. And we fans cared as a result. Furthermore, I'm upset at this loss. This means two things:
- We've progressed past feeling sorry for the Jazz, and that we shouldn't look for consolation prizes for winning a game at home against a rival by -7 points
- The Jazz actually had a few chances to win this game, despite all the crazy events of this game, and is what we should focus on.
Call me crazy, but showing life =/= playing as well as the team can. I'm not satisfied with our team just showing life. Maybe you are, maybe you are not. I can't speak for you other fans. Read on, to go deeper into the mind of someone who isn't placated by moral victories.
You know what's better than a moral victory? What would have been better than a great effort (in comparison to the previous road trip)? What would be better would have been an actual win. Call me callous if you will, but I'm old school like that. We have a good team filled with really talented players. Expecting home wins is already something I've been admonished for. But how about a singular win? Is it out of the question to not be satisfied with losses?
I'm upset - not because we have now lost 6 games in a row. That's water under the bridge for me. I'm upset because we could have won this game. This wasn't a game where the other team was flirting with a 40 margin of victory. This wasn't a game where our starters were trying to get tossed. Our guys were trying hard, hustling for loose balls, and trying to help each other as much as they can.
Our guys fought hard, and still lost. Which wouldn't hurt as much if they had no chance to win this one. Utah, I repeat it again, very well could have won this game.
Tony Parker bad. Keep Parker on the bench with fouls:
First of all, Tony Parker has always killed our team. He's played 37 games against the Jazz in his career (regular season and playoff combined), and has career averages of 17.9 ppg (50.2 fg%, 35.7 3pt%, 70.4 ft%), 5.2 apg, and 5.8 free throw attempts per game. Oh yeah, and he's only lost to the Jazz 10 times in his entire NBA career. We just can't seem to defend him, not just when he's zipping around screens and getting layups unmolested - but our defense lets him be good at things he's not even good at. Mainly, a guy who barely shoots 30% from deep for his career (regular season and playoffs combined) shoots a few percentage points off of Mehmet Okur's career three point percentage against the Jazz.. I know he kills our team, and I will 'give' the Spurs that for sure. I accept his quality of play, and even accept that we dare him to shoot threes - and he makes them against us. What is upsetting is our inability to pay the Spurs back for Parker's speed with Deron's post up ability. We can't even get Deron the ball on post ups. That's not acceptable. It's one thing if we get him the ball, and he passes to an open guy due to a double team. It's another thing if we get him the ball, and Deron takes a bad shot. It's inexcusable to not even be able to get the ball to the guy posting up in a half court set. (And this isn't just in attempts to Deron, whenever the Jazz had a mouse in the house, they always flubbed it up - including in the 4th quarter last night when Evans had a water bug defending him in the paint) If the Jazz were actually able to get the ball into Deron, maybe Parker would have been in foul trouble. And just MAYBE, that would have prevented him from torching the Jazz for 23 points off of 60 fg% shooting. (Btw, last game he torched us for 24 on 65 fg% shooting, so I guess this counts as a gameplan victory according to Jerry) This is a big maybe, but it's a chance to impact the game in our favor that we did not succeed in. We always get Chris Paul in foul trouble with Deron Williams post-ups. We were able to get the ball into Carlos Boozer and Karl Malone even when they were fronted with lots of guys hovering around. Jazz need to reverse the ball, elicit the defense to shift, and then attempt the pass again from another angle. Standing there and telegraphing a miss-thrown pass to a great defensive team is not Jazz basketball.
The Jazz did not take advantage of scoring off of good defensive stops. If you are losing, in order to get back in the game you need to get defensive stops, and then score. To get a defensive stop and not score, or to not stop them but score, are examples of working hard to maintain the status quo. Coach Pop was good with his timeouts, calling them after the Jazz would go on a small run of 4 straight points. Sloan only takes them when the other team is within 1 or 2 points of closing the gap. (Yes, yes, I know. The Jazz are one of the best franchises with one of the best coaches. Our string of 5th playoff seeds shows this. No criticism of Jerry Sloan and his perfect system will ever be tolerated. Fine. I get that.) Despite not being able to fully get the crowd into it, or not being able to maintain momentum in our favor, the Jazz just did not capitalize on missed opportunities last game.
I'm not asking for the Jazz to score every time down the floor, or to stop the Spurs from scoring all game long. But when we go on a fast break and throw the ball 5 feet above Andrei head it's not taking advantage of a good defensive stop on the other end. Same thing with a CJ Miles break that ends up with Manu getting a steal. Or a bad Andrei pass to Deron that gets intercepted, and so on. When the Jazz needed to focus and finish plays they were rushed and ended up with nothing. The 4th quarter was a great exhibition of this - where everything that could have gone wrong almost did. (Double flop going against us, CJ getting called for a goal tend when he should have just waited half a second before jumping, to get the rebound, etc)
The Jazz also missed three throws, layups, and failed to make the Spurs mistakes hurt them. This isn't split milk, these are instances where our team counter-attacks effectively, and had previously done so in earlier games this year.
Memo to Memo: Be the Money Man
I've only had two serious sports injuries in my, obviously, far from professional sports experience. Coming back from injury is difficult but getting back on the field, pitch, or court is the easy part. Being there mentally is the hard part. Over the last few games we've seen a bit more of Memo on the court - but he hasn't produced like he's used to / like he expects to. Since joining the Jazz as a RFA back in 2004-2005 Mehmet Okur has been a baller for us. His scoring and rebounding averages go as follows: 13/8, 18/9, 18/7, 15/8, 17/8, and14/7 last year. Those numbers alone (not including his great ft%, three point ability, and career averages of 2 apg and 1 bpg) make him the best Jazz center ever. (Sorry Mark Eaton fans, look at the numbers, it's not even close. Having over 4 bpg doesn't absolve playing 4 on 5 on offense when you are on the court)
This season, his 1st off of an injury that takes about 2 years to recover from, he's getting 5 and 2 in very reduced minutes. His per 36 minutes numbers aren't horrible, but they aren't quite what he has produced lately (only 14/6). As I wrote at The No Look Pass in the Lakers game preview, Okur's basketball clock is in August, and it's the end of January right now. He doesn't have confidence in his shot, and he's Hayward-ing it right now. (Passing up the open shot that he should take to hesitate, drive, and then pass the ball to someone in more difficult scoring position) With Memo from what we saw of him in Game 1 of the Denver series we win this game. Easy. That Memo (in the limited time he played) was going all out, getting to the line, and killing the defense. A slightly less drug fueled (he was shot up by the jazz trainers with a lot of pain killers), but still somewhat sure of himself, Okur would have taken some of those shots he passed up in the second half. Maybe they wouldn't have gone in -- but you'll never score if you never take the shot.
I feel bad for criticizing Okur, who isn't 100% there yet, but his timid play was part of the reason why we lost a game we should have won. He's one of my favorite players, and when he gets healthy, will be a big part of our future success this season.
All the starters need to show up
I'm not going to go too deep into this, but part of the reason why we lost - again - was because we continue to use ineffective lineups. Deron had 39 points. Big Al chipped in with 22. The other three guys helped out with 18 total. Jeremy Evans, all of 9 minutes of action, was one missed contested layup away from outscoring two of our five starters.
Poor shooting at home
Did you know that in a game that we could have won, the Jazz went 2-12 from three? I don't care about the bullshit calls, or the inability to stop Parker and Manu -- if we're not holding serve at home from deep, your team is just going to lose. Deron went 0-5 from deep. I don't think he took the best shots that night, but if one of them went in? Whole new ball game. If two of his five went in? Game may have tipped in our favor. Memo missed a super open three on a 4 on 2 break. He also passed up 2 other good looks. These are our clutch shooters. And they were blanked on a night where their statistically average shooting performances from deep would have greatly helped out.
This was a winnable game. I'm happy that our team looks like they care. I'm not happy with yet another home loss against a Western conference playoff team. What do you guys think? Winnable game? Or adopt the PDX soccer mom mentality and clap hard during losses?