First we said it about the Sixers win, then the Grizzlies, but last night was the single best performance by this team all year. The Jazz marched into "The Can", on the aft end of a back-to-back and dictated the way the game would be played for most of the 48 minute contest. The Jazz saw what the Hornets did to beat the Nuggets in Denver and were able to execute their plan precisely. Now people will start to take notice.
People will attribute this win to the Jazz ability to control the pace of the game, but if you dig deeper, the reason they were effective at doing so was because of their great defensive effort. The Nuggets were able to put up 96 points, but they really had to work to do it and that number is greatly inflated by the 39 free throw attempts (double the Jazz's FTA). Equalize that number and the Nuggets only manage to get 77 points, which is fantastic. The Jazz were able to hold the Nuggets to 51.6% at the rim (the Jazz shot 66.7%), but the bigger impact was the lockdown defense in the area from 3-9 ft. In this arc of the paint, the Jazz held the Nuggets to just 11.2%, while managing to score on 35.8% of their own shots there. As Diana stated in her Game Day Preview, one of the keys to winning this game was to limit inside scoring and the Jazz won the battle from 0-9 ft by a score of 50-42.
The next thing that could have hurt the Jazz, and had us all afraid, was the Nuggets 3pt shooting. Again, the Jazz were great, holding the potentially fiery Nuggets to just 37.5%.
The game pace itself? By controlling things on the defensive side the Jazz held the pace to 94.6, right above their own average of 91.6, but below the Nuggets average of 96.6.
I know there is a lot of numbers in there (Amar will be so proud), but this is some pretty significant stuff. Instead of being known as a good defensive team based on Jazz teams from 15 years ago, this Jazz squad is really proving they are.
Paul Millsap, Paul Millsap, and Paul Millsap
This man has been absolutely phenomenal since the start of the New Year and it is being seen in the Jazz's record, as they have gone 7-1 in that time frame. Sap took over this game in the 4th quarter scoring 16 of his 26 points, completely abusing any defender George Karl threw at him. But it wasn't just his scoring that helped the Jazz, he also grabbed 12 boards and dished out 3 assists.
Team Chemistry and this happened:
via jazzfanatical.files.wordpress.com (Moni is a Goddess)
The best things about this Jazz team are the defensive intensity and the team chemistry that is developing. This is the reason we are all so high on the team and more importantly, it is the reason the defense has been so effective. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are playing much better together on both ends of the floor. In the GIF above we see the beautiful lob from Al to Sap, and on the defensive end Big Al made a beautiful defensive play coming over from the weak side to help Millsap and getting the block (the video of which I cannot find anywhere).
In addition, the two headed lion/eagle of Earl Watson and Devin Harris came together for another great performance with 14 pts and 14 assists.
The Injury Bug
We found out shortly before the game that Josh Howard would not play due to a worsening quad, then right before half time Derrick Favors tweaked his ankle and would be seen after the game in a boot.