SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 2: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz goes to the basket against
Dwayne Wade #3, LeBron James #6 and Udonis Haslem #40 of the Miami Heat at Energy Solutions Arena
on March 2, 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of
the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2012 NBAE
(Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Miracles do seem to happen more than once. The Utah Jazz, a team on the wrong side of .500 were facing a tall task by hosting a determined (then Eastern conference leading) Miami Heat looking to win their 10th game in a row. Miami has been demolishing teams of late, prior to last night's game by a margin of victory that was approaching 15 points. They found out the hard way that while our team doesn't look good on paper, we're still a team you can't afford to look past.
I had my doubts about this game, mainly because I do pay so much attention to how teams are performing -- and it is no surprise that I've set my expectations for our Jazz quite low for the second half of the season. Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but I can't easily get the taste of losing 11 of a total 15 games last month out of my mouth. I'm glad that I couldn't follow a majority of it real time because I would have been on the edge of my seat. What a fantastic finish!
The Jazz held onto a slim lead in the first quarter, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were taking advantage of the Heat's inside weaknesses. And then something wonderful happened . . . Tyrone Corbin put in a lineup that were so inexperienced that they didn't know that they were just supposed to let the Miami Heat take over. The Jazz busted the game open with C.J. Miles, Earl Watson, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and little used Alec Burks. The Jazz went on a 11-1 run midway through the second, a run that the Heat tried to recover from all game long. The Jazz finished the second quarter after scoring 30 points, and allowing only 18.
In the third quarter the Jazz starters recovered from an initial Heat blast to protect the lead, and extend it to a massive 18 points. Of course, LeBron James took over. The Heat won the third quarter 27 to 21, and the massive cushion was being chipped away at by a man on a mission. I've seen that LeBron before -- first hand when he absolutely wrecked the Detroit Pistons, in Detroit, in the NBA Playoffs all by himself. I knew he could get to the rim whenever he wanted, and was unstoppable when posting up in this game.
The Fourth Quarter saw Corbin put in the younger guys again early, to give the vets (not named Josh Howard) some rest. The younger guys tried hard, even started to extend the lead a bit, but could not quell the tide of LeBron James' massive game. All of them recieved negative +/- scores for their second stint. The vets came back in, would they have enough of a buffer to hold off what would have been one of the worst losses of the season (up +18 vs the Heat at home)?
Well, clearly yes. Its was a dogfight where the Jazz kept attacking and scrapping, while the Heat rode LeBron who was having a truly improbable shooting performance in the fourth quarter (he would finish going 8-9, with a three). LeBron kept making very tough shots, and the Jazz kept trying to get offensive rebounds (would finish the game with 23, which was nearly more than the number of defense rebounds they collected).
Both teams were fighting for their lives. LeBron James got open, and Josh Howard would close out poorly. LeBron then upfaked Howard in to the air, and dribbled into midrange and took a shot; only for Howard to recover back and block LeBron's shot. This started a fast break where, you guessed it, Josh Howard decided he should die with the pill -- and LeBron ran back and blocked his shot off the backboard. Earl then got the rebound, and passed it to C.J. Miles, who then had to try to layup with two bodies on the floor near the rim. He passed out of the shot, and the Heat stole the ball.
After reclaiming the lead late in the fourth the Jazz had to think of something, and we all know our late game playbook is very limited. As you can imagine we got the ball into Al Jefferson (who had a very solid 20 point game, and had just made a key bucket in single coverage), and he was doubled. He kicked it out to Devin Harris who up-faked the defensive rotation (LeBron), and finished a runner / floater over Dwayne Wade, who also fouled him. Harris (who had missed a FT a few moments earlier when fouled on a three point attempt) calmly sank the freebie. The Jazz were up 99 to 98 then.
With time running out this was LeBron's game to win. In a play that at least 3 million people have debated about since it happened last night we got to see LeBron playing the team game, and getting killed for it. LeBron penetrated off of a high screen and roll, and collected a double team. Udonis Haslem was open for a straight away jumper from midrange. James passed him the ball with plenty of time on the clock and Haslem missed the game winner. With LeBron going 8-9 in the quarter, and being LeBron, you kind of think he had the advantage and would have shot it / drove to the basket and gotten fouled; however LeBron's not on the Kobe system. The right play is to get it to the open man who is in a spot where he can make that shot. Over the last three seasons Haslem is shooting 198/435 from that range -- which is 45.5 fg%. He had no defenders around him and time to shoot it. Is that a better shot than an off-balance shot over two guys? LeBron made the right play, Haslem just isn't as clutch as he needed to be on that shot. You run that exact play the same way 10 times and it looks like the Heat win the game close to half the time. As a numbers guy, and a guy who loves to pass when he plays basketball -- you gotta applaud LeBron for trying to win the game the right way.
And you have to applaud the Jazz for this remarkable victory. Looking at the schedule I had this as a loss, even with Chris Bosh not playing and the Heat on a back-to-back. If the Jazz can continue to play well at home, while getting solid minutes and contributions from a few bench guys every night, I think you'll see a lot more positive reviews on this website.
Thinks that Popped out to me:
- Devin Harris is pushing the ball when he can, which is exactly what he needs to do. He shot the ball 9 times, and made only 3 of them. Worse still is that he went 2/6 in the halfcourt, missing a number of designed plays like spot up jumpers and jumpers off curls. When he's in the open court he's much more effective. And I liked that he tried to do that a little more in this game. He's finding his spurts.
- Paul Millsap and Gordon Hayward both shot 3/7, which is not good; but they found a lot of other things to do on the floor besides take shots and miss. Sap had 8 rebounds, 1 block, did a lot of boxing out. Hayward had 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 block, and played good defense for the most part. The BEST is that they both got to the line and made all of their free throws (a combined 7-7)
- Big Al Jefferson is still irreplaceable on this team. Yes, the crunch time offense gets pretty obvious when he's in there, but seriously, are you going to run your crunch time offense through Millsap or Favors at this stage? Nope.
Chuck Testa. Al had the game winning assist. He also had some clutch baskets all game long, and opportunistic finishes in the first half where he dunked the ball hard. We need him finishing like that. If he didn't then we wouldn't have had that 18 point lead to squander in the first place. Yes, he only got to the line twice, and missed both shots; and yes he didn't have a double double; and yes he needed 20 shots to get 20 points -- but we still don't win this game without him.
- C.J. Miles continues to do his thing -- which is never be predictable. He had 14 points, which is good, but he needed 14 shots to do it, which is bad. He made some bone head plays (bad), but got to the free throw line 4 times (good). He turned the ball over when we really didn't need him to (bad), but he also hit a key three pointer and played good defense (good). He also had 5 rebounds, which is one less than Al Jefferson had. Miles is, essentially, a more stable version of J.R. Smith. You kind of need an x-factor off the bench. It is obvious that Miles is ours. He either makes the game very easy or very difficult for us. He's a free agent, and I think the Jazz brass only does things I don't want them to do, so I'm not expecting him to return. I would be overjoyed if he does doe.
- Earl Watson had 7 dimes, 4 rebounds, a block, a steal, two points, and he made one bone head play that would have really pissed me off if we lost. We didn't lose, so I'm not going to go into it.
- Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter continue to be one really good prospect. Tonight they had 14 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. They also had 2 steals and a block, while shooting 2/3 from the free throw line. Probably the most impressive thing is that they are a good tandem on defense. During my third viewing of last nights game I kept noticing how well they would switch off or hold each others man when the Heat would try to move guys around with screens and off the ball movement. It's almost if, gasp, they understood team defense. And both of them aren't old enough to drink yet. Perhaps all those years of Carlos Boozer letting Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko guard three guys is finally over? Also, while they were not vocal on defense, it's like they were coached together so they know each others tendencies. They would switch off, double, and return to their men silently, and efficiently. It blew my mind.
- Alec Burks. Just. Play. The. Damn. Rookie. Already.
- Josh Howard -- 40 minutes of action, 22 mins in one stretch. Totally gassed at the end of the game, which probably contributed to LeBron going off on us. Perhaps if Howard got a breather he would have had more gas left in the tank to finish the game strong? I don't know. It's hard to guard James one on one, and for the most of the night that's what Corbin asked of him. Howard's man went 8/13 last night (I counted). Howard went 4/15. Howard made a number of good plays, and a number of not so good plays. I'm not a fan, but over all he was a major part of this win. A good part or a bad part remains to be seen. 10 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block . . . all nice to see. Missing open layups, not passing on fast breaks, and getting torched all night long . . . not something you want to see. I hope he auditions more completely in the rest of the games this season.