NBA Playoffs 2012 Jazz Vs. Spurs Game 2: Anatomy (and Physiology) of a Blowout

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 02: (L-R) DeMarre Carroll #3, Alec Burks #10 and Jeremy Evans #40 of the Utah Jazz walk off the court after a loss against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 2, 2012 in San Antonio, Texas. 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. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Game 2: Utah Jazz 83 @ San Antonio Spurs 114

Game 2 was bad for a variety of reasons. The most obvious one to me is that we lost. Everyone sees that. If you watched the game you also saw that our team was over-matched -- and if it was not for a 9-2 run at the end the final score would have looked much WORSE than it was. You know, because being beat down 114-83 isn't bad enough.

via: PopcornMachine.net

However, to me, the most painful thing I saw and came to realize is that some of our guys just don't have the heart or fight in them. I've accused some guys on our team of being mercenaries before, but in the playoffs we get to see where ones' true allegiance lies. Some guys just gave up, but that could also be attributed to other factors as well. On paper Al Jefferson is being absolutely dominated by Tim Duncan -- which is the opposite of what happened during the regular season to an extent. Is this all Big Al's fault, or are his defensive flaws all that more apparent when having to face a really great team?

Josh Howard? Clearly I'm a bad guy for being happy when he got injured -- and hindsight proves me right as it directly led to our team making the damn playoffs. Now that he's back -- he's stinking it up as usual. But remember, *I* am the bad guy here, not him. Not the guy who has a playoffs Offensive rating of 78, shooting 23.1 fg%, and a 0.77 points per shot value. I'm the bad guy. Fine. Who better to give bad news then?

The Jazz had a horrible Game 2. It's in my training and nature to look at dysfunctional systems, break it down, isolate the problem, and suggest a course of action. Just like I can't make the 300 lb. patient go on a diet and exercise, I can't MAKE the Jazz play the right guys. The least I can do is see where the problem is and tell them. And I do just that -- after the jump.

The Game:

No one expected the Jazz to win this series, even I the super homer Utah Jazz fan expected the Jazz to win only 1 game in the playoffs. Game 2 was clearly not going to be that game as the Jazz made silly passes in transition and failed to close out on opposing shooters. The Spurs gameplan was flawless. Ours was far from it. And again, all of this was to be expected. What we did not expect was to be losing by 40 points to their bench guys.

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What makes a good system?

You may not care, but a big part of a system working is . . . surprise surprise . . . the parts that make up a system. Not only do you need good parts, and you need your parts to be performing near their peak, but these parts need to also work together well. That's really what a highly functioning system is, A + B + C. Good Parts + Parts that Work + Parts that work together. It doesn't matter if you are mechanic, an Industrial and Organizational psychologist, or a heart surgeon. This is what makes a system that works.

In Game 2 the Jazz system was not working.

And it's not a shame to admit it.

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The Jazz against the Spurs:

Clearly the Spurs are a way different animal than we are used to playing. They have a fully formed system. In our last few games running up to the playoffs the Jazz played Portland, Phoenix, Orlando, and Dallas. None of those teams are the Spurs. We can't really TEST for the Spurs as they exist outside of our system. But we can test how our system performed against the Spurs. We can also test to see how our team did against the Spurs: quarter by quarter, and five man roster by roster. Again, we start with Popcornmachine.net's great work:

Tyrone Corbin doesn't mix up his lineups too much. And that's fine -- he's not a Hall of Fame Coach, he's still learning. It's important to make sure that we do learn from this lesson though (As Yucca pointed out). The starters lost a handle on the game early, and before Corbin even made a single substitution the Jazz were already -12 on the score board. The Subs came in and their line ups went +3, -2, +0, and +6 (it all adds up to +7), which brought the Jazz back to within 5 points. Tyrone put the veterans in the game, and the Spurs went +26 the rest of the game.

The Jazz run at the end of the 1st quarter and early 2nd quarter happened because of two things:

  1. The Jazz starters gave up the Ghost early, Gregg Popovich didn't need to sweat it, and
  2. The Jazz bench guys were hungry and fought, and took it to Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson, DeJuan Blair (former starter), Matt Bonner (Jazz killer), and Patty Mills.

So the run came when the Jazz weren't playing against the Tony Parker / Tim Duncan lineup, but it could have just as easily not come if those guys didn't play hard. They did play hard. This wasn't a garbage time run, this was a run that started in the 1st quarter against the #1 seed in the Western Conference, on the road.

And being happy about this run aside, Corbin promptly took Derrick Favors out (who played 9:00 mins in a 'row' with a quarter break in the middle), and our defense went to lunch. With Favors out of the game, the Jazz went -27. When Favors got back in the game it was approaching 5 minutes left until the 4th quarter -- and the game was already lost then.

Why am I singling out Favors here? Well, Favors is the only bigman on our roster who is both long and quick enough to show on all those pick and rolls. In Game 2 we saw Al Jefferson showing, then turning around. Jefferson HAD HIS BACK TO TONY PARKER WHO HAD THE BALL AND AN ACTIVE DRIBBLE. I can't make that up. I watched the game now a grand total of 5 times. This was not a singular occurrence. It's not Big Al's fault he's bad at defense. He's made a lot of strides to get better in all of his weaknesses over the last 18 months. He improved his physical abilities by working hard in the off-season. He's gotten way better at not shooting over triple teams and passing. He's gotten more decisive with his post moves. He's still bad at defense though. He just is bad right now. It's not an insult to state a fact. It's called honesty. MySynergySports.com ranks him #216 in the NBA. They put Paul Millsap at #146. Derrick Favors is at a lower rank than Al Jefferson is over-all; however, he kicks Al's butt in defending Pick and Rolls, Post Ups, and Isolations. Those are the three things we need our bigs to defend in this series.

Al Jefferson's calling card is his offense, but for the series he's scoring only 13.0 ppg, off of 41.9 fg%, and pulling down 6.5 rpg. Part of that is his MPG is down from the regular season a whopping 2.5 mpg. He is also shooting the ball -1.7 times less a game. His offense, the very justification for him being on the floor, isn't quite where we need it to be, to continue justifying playing him as much as we do. Again, this isn't me making fun of him, this is me being honest.

It's not all Al's fault. Not even his offensive struggles . . . because the Jazz floor spacing is horrible against the Spurs. We can't even get entry passes to Big Al because Devin Harris and Gordon Hayward are both shooting 16.7 3pt% in this series. We don't take a lot of threes, but that only further crowds the paint. Al is a great one on one scorer when he can get the ball and pace out his moves. Because the Jazz can't keep the Spurs defense honest enough on defense Al is having a harder time than usual. This very season Big Al averaged 18.0 ppg, off of 46.6 fg% against the Spurs. It is a lot worse now. And part of it is not his fault (granted). On defense though, the main problem this series -- he is far from faultless.

He's not the only problem on defense either, but I felt the need to talk about the Jefferson example here -- we keep him on the floor for offense, which *kind of* makes up for his poor defense. If his offense isn't working -- then he's not helping us. There are other guys whom this applies to as well.

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The First Quarter:

This is what happened in the first quarter.

First Quarter
Time 7:55 3:12 0:53
+ or - -12 +3 -2
PG Devin Harris Jamaal Tinsley Jamaal Tinsley
SG Gordon Hayward Gordon Hayward Gordon Hayward
SF Josh Howard Josh Howard Josh Howard
PF Paul Millsap Derrick Favors Enes Kanter
C Al Jefferson Al Jefferson Derrick Favors
+/- per min -1.52 0.94 -2.26

Ty used three different lineups, and each had Gordon Hayward and Josh Howard playing in them. That's the common factor, and as a result, you can cross them out. The differences were that Devin Harris sat in two of them, and the Defense seemed to be at it's BEST when Big Al and Favors were both on the court. The numbers are for Time (that's how long they were on the court for), + or - (you know, were they up or down), and the metric I made here which is just +/- divided by minutes played. From this we get a related rate with which we can look at performance. The best lineup in the 1st quarter by this metric was the one that had Favors and Al playing. Keep this in mind. Man-mountain Enes Kanter did not help in this regard -- really the only way he can help defend Tony Parker is by sitting on him.

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The Second Quarter:

This quarter Ty mixed quite a bit and used 5 different lineups.

Second Quarter
Time 2:52 2:04 1:24 1:53 3:45
+ or - +0 +6 -5 -3 -12
PG Jamaal Tinsley Jamaal Tinsley Jamaal Tinsley Devin Harris Devin Harris
SG Alec Burks Alec Burks Alec Burks Alec Burks Gordon Hayward
SF DeMarre Carroll DeMarre Carroll DeMarre Carroll Josh Howard Josh Howard
PF Enes Kanter Paul Millsap Paul Millsap Paul Millsap Paul Millsap
C Derrick Favors Derrick Favors Al Jefferson Al Jefferson Al Jefferson
+/- per min 0.00 2.90 -3.49 -1.59 -3.20

Part of the difference we see here is that one group had momentum and was hustling. One simple change (in this case Derrick Favors for Al Jefferson from Roster 2 to Roster 3) really disrupted the cohesion. The Jazz were obliterated in +/- after they made that run to cut it to 5.

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The Third Quarter:

Okay, half time happened. The Jazz were down big. The Jazz needed to come out hard in this game, or lose it quickly. Ty used three line ups again. He'd have to go to the big lineups, right?

Third Quarter
Time 6:25 3:30 2:05
+ or - -7 -2 +0
PG Devin Harris Devin Harris Jamaal Tinsley
SG Gordon Hayward Gordon Hayward Gordon Hayward
SF Josh Howard Paul Millsap Paul Millsap
PF Paul Millsap Derrick Favors Derrick Favors
C Al Jefferson Al Jefferson Al Jefferson
+/- per min -1.09 -0.57 0.00

Well, two of the three units here were Big. They were with Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap, and Gordon Hayward (shortest guy is 6'8), with either of our two NBA level PGs. They played for a total of 5:35 in a 48 minute game. They were, relatively speaking, not the worst lineups in terms of +/- per minute in this game. Glad they only played 5 mins though.

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Super Ultimate Garbage time:

You can discount the efforts made by these guys playing in garbage time.

Fourth Quarter
Time 6:27 5:33
+ or - +1 +2
PG Jamaal Tinsley Blake Ahearn
SG Alec Burks Alec Burks
SF DeMarre Carroll DeMarre Carroll
PF Enes Kanter Jeremy Evans
C Derrick Favors Enes Kanter
+/- per min 0.16 0.36

But if it wasn't for how hard they played, the Jazz lose Game 2 by 40+. We saw some guys hustling hard in the fourth quarter -- harder than some of our guys were hustling in the 1st.

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More on +/- divided by minutes:

This is a really simple thing to do, you get a decimal number for minutes (e.g. 3:30 minutes played is 3.5 minutes), and then you divide the +/- for a unit by that number. I did this for all the 5-man units Ty put out there. Against, this is moving beyond have A) Good parts, and B) Parts that are functioning -- and looking at C) How do the parts fit together. Here's what we saw:

I've ranked them by +/- per minute here, and well, there's a lot of crap at the bottom. We also see the Jazz whole damn team rating for this game. That's the baseline. Which units were under that line, and which were above it? Here, let me make it easy for you.

Hmm, a whole lot of Josh Howard and Al Jefferson under that line. Devin Harris too. On the other hand, only TWO of Alec Burks' units were in the bottom group, and only one of Derrick Favors' units was. Feel free to disregard the efforts of the guys in the 4th quarter -- that's fine. Also take a look at the units used during that critical 3rd quarter. I've highlighted them. The "Big Unit" works. Or at the very least, it works less poorly than the rest of the units worked on average.

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Anatomy and Physiology:

Anatomy is what you have. Physiology is how it works. I guess if we're continuing on in this theme, Biochemistry are the distinct plays that make up a game. But what you have and how they work really define and determine the capability to win -- if you are a good team you don't need a last second shot to win. You win in the quarters that lead up to it. The Spurs did that. They won from the first quarter, and dominated our "best effort" in quarter 3. How do I look at our team?

  • Devin Harris is a good part that's functioning poorly
  • Gordon Hayward is a good part that fits well with other guys
  • Josh Howard is today a bad part that does not fit the system
  • Paul Millsap fits but is functioning poorly
  • Al Jefferson if functioning poorly, if he's playing better it kind of absolves his defense in a way

Those are our starters. They play the most minutes. If Devin Harris doesn't go on a tear we don't make the playoffs. If Al Jefferson doesn't hold it down all season long, we don't make the playoffs. If Paul Millsap doesn't Millslap teams we're not in the playoffs. Gordon is our future -- and one of the few guys on this team that has shown fight in this series.

Burks and Favors have as well. Favors is the only guy playing both post defense, and pick and roll defense. And in Game 2 he went coast to coast and finished while being fouled. Burks? Synergy loves him. And he was built for the playoffs. In 32 total minutes played he has gone to the foul line 10 times. And he made 9. He's a rookie. Look at his playoff stats per game and look at Josh Howard's playoff stats per game. It's criminal that one of them is rewarded with playing time and the other is treated like a leper.

Back on topic, though -- we have some good parts and some bad parts. Some parts fit together, some do not. Some are good parts and not functioning as they should. It's a tricky situation -- but you have to make tough decisions in life sometimes.

Even as an NBA Head Coach.

If we are determined to learn things from Game 2 then we must admit that Josh Howard is hurting this team, and sadly, until Big Al can get going -- he's hurting this team too. Playing Burks with Hayward gives us two more ball handlers who can drive, get to the line, and hit threes. It also means a) less Howard, and b) actually attacks the Spurs on defense.

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My recommendations:

  • Start Carroll, his energy and team play are necessary at the beginning of the game
  • Split the majority of the time at small forward between Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap
  • Split the majority of the time at shooting guard between Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward (they are among our best pick and roll defenders, and best defenders in closing out on spot up shooters)
  • More Derrick Favors, and less Big Al (unless Big Al is 'feeling it', and we need him to feel it in Game 3). If both guys are playing well together don't sub them out to stick to your guns.
  • Reward good play, evenly and fairly. If a group of guys bring you back into a game -- don't sub them out and go down by over 10 points again -- and keep those guys out until 5 mins before the 4th quarter.

Of course, I can just look at the problem, see how things work, and give you a recommendation. It's up to YOU to make the changes to get healthy, get better, and get a win in this series Ty.

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