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Game 30 Recap: Utah Jazz - 85 , Houston Rockets - 101

I'm working to get the Game Reviews back to their regular thing. But I'm a bit behind. So here's the Rockets game, and later will be the Spurs game. Hopefully before the next game has already been played this time.

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I didn't watch the Houston game live. Why? Because I'm a good guy. :)


So anyway, I came home and saw the box score before I watched the game on Synergy. And it's funny how the narrative I ultimately saw watching the game is very different than the narrative the box score seemed to tell (and other recaps corroborated).

You know the narrative: Al and Sap came to play, nobody else showed up, our guards decided they wouldn't guard Lowry for the night, and that was that.

Well, it turns out there is a lot more to the narrative that I expected to see. And it all starts with these stats (via Synergy):

Here are the plays that ended with a shot: 23 post ups, 21 spot ups, 7 iso's, 7 P&R's and 4 cuts. 16 assists on 32 made shots.

Post ups, spot ups, and iso's? That's not what I believe Jazz basketball was about—not in the good days, anyway. So I compared this to an awesome game: one that got Henry Abbott at True Hoops freaking out about how incredible the Jazz were after destroying his Blazers three times in a month. So, Feb. 3, 2010:

23 Spot ups, 17 cuts, 16 transition, 11 P&R's. 8 iso's and, seriously, 3 post ups.

That's the Jazz O I remember loving. They scored 31 points on those 17 cuts. That's what Henry Abbott was so dazzled with—the interior passing, screening, and cutting that led to 32 assists for 41 made field goals. It's not that the team didn't go into the post, it's that the post wasn't the end point of the plays.

Some of the differences are, of course, expected. The best Jazz scorer today is Al Jefferson. Of course they're going to do post plays for him. Where that Jazz team had Deron, Memo, and AK (Boozer was ... this will shock you ... out that game nursing an injury). Different personnel means different strengths.

But still. Four cuts? FOUR?! Equal number of iso's and P&R's? What the frak is going on with this team?

Well let's see, quarter by quarter:

1st Quarter

It will end with the Rockets leading by 1. 23-22.

The crazy thing is there were certain things working and not working in this quarter—things that flip-flopped later in the game. There were also a few not-so-awesome trends in their beginning stages.

The Jazz made 11 shots. 7 were assisted. 4 assists came from Hayward doing his best Chris Paul impersonation.

The Jazz shot 13 jump shots. They had 7 layup/dunk attempts. That is not an awesome ratio.

It's easy to look up how many of the made shots were assisted. But what about the misses? By my count, 3 of those missed shots would have earned an assist had they been made. 8 misses would not have been assisted.

7 of the 11 makes were assisted; 8 of the 11 misses were unassisted. (I didn't include tips, going up after an offensive rebound, etc., since they're a different sort of animal).

And why no cuts? Isn't that supposed to be the hallmark of a good Jazz team? Well, I thought this sequence shows a lot. It ends with Al getting blocked on an iso drive/layup attempt, but that's not really the issue. Look at all the off-ball movement: they're screening, they're cutting—but those screens are terrible, and those cuts are lame. The only guy who put his body on someone else was Earl. Nobody made a hard, fast cut. Nobody did any kind of head/shoulder fake to freeze the defender. The soul of John Stockton was violated here.

Well, that's enough of the offense. What about defense?

Well, here's the same problems with P&R defense that has come up about a billion times so far this season. 1st clip, there's no show. Both Al and Devin slide along and guard the ball handler (Lowry), leaving nobody on Scola (He'll miss a little hook shot, but it wasn't because of the P&R D). 2nd clip: Hayward is faked out and the ball handler actually goes opposite of the screen and nobody can rotate fast enough to cut him off.

How ought the P&R D look? Well wouldn't this be nice? Notice: both Earl and Kanter follow the ball handler. But this time Favors rotates to cut off the roll.

2nd Quarter

Well, things started really, really ugly. Lots of turnovers. Lots of missed gimmes (by Earl, Alec, and Favors ... seriously Earl and Alec missed a couple shots each that they'd bake 49 times out of 50). Oh and Alec got smacked in the head on a transition layup. Crazy thing is, the players are all giving what you want if they can't make shots.

CJ gets two big transition blocks. Favors has two blocks at this point. They're fighting for loose balls, they're causing turnovers, they're getting deflections ... but the offense is pretty ugly. Thankfully their hustle is still keeping the game close at this point.

Soon Millsap checks in for Favors and has perhaps the prettiest move and score in the game:


One thing that strikes me is how much the Jazz game plan changes when Al and Sap are in vs. when Favors and Kanter are in. They usually initiate the offense by going into the post for Al and Sap. But when it's Favors and Kanter the go to a wing (usually CJ or Howard) as the starting point. And we all know what Howard and CJ tend to do when they get the ball ...

But there's a bad trend going on. A really bad trend on the offensive side. The assists are way down this quarter. Eight shots made without an assist. Three shots assisted. It's probably not a coincidence that Earl had a down game and Hayward spends the entire quarter on the bench.

I have to go all opinion here, but what the hell? The team focused on exactly the kind of offense that didn't work at all in the first quarter: iso's and post ups, no assisting, no cuts, no passes. It went better this quarter than in the first—both Al and Millsap got going and did their thing fine. But what the frak is going on with Hayward? He had a good first quarter, four assists, 1-1 shooting. And then he sits the entire second quarter? When the O is horribly stagnant? Al and Sap took very short rests to keep them warm, and you know what ... they got going. Hayward gets to rot coldly on the bench even though he was the primary reason the offense worked at all in the first quarter.

I. Hate. This.

Anyway, it wasn't a horrible first half. It was actually decent. They led by one on the road to a decent team. But the beginnings of how things would go wrong all happened early. The bad signs were there.

Interesting thing about the lack of Jazz FT's. In my opinion there was only one shot that should have been whistled as a foul—when Alec got clobbered going for a layup. Other than that, I seriously saw no fouls.

Third Quarter

They continue to go with the "no-assist" style offense. But that's not the real issue. No, the real issue is their P&R defense simply falls apart. Well, that's not true. It was bad the entire first half, but the Rockets seemed to decide to specifically exploit it.

Here's what they do: P&R, drive to the basket, defense collapses, dish out to open guy who either makes the shot or fakes, moseys to the hoop when the desperation defender rushes past. Repeat.

The game begins to go the Rockets' way with about 7 minutes left in the third. The Jazz have a few turnovers, and the Rockets exploit the Jazz problems with P&R defense.

The Jazz claw back to within two, but at this point the "no-assist" offense starts failing. They're playing hard, still getting deflections on D, still hustling (getting two straight offensive rebounds in a possession thanks to Earl and Al/Favors—Al bats it out of the Rockets hands, Favors rushes over to grab it before the Rockets can get to it), but they can't score, and they're not passing to get easy, classic Jazz buckets. Credit also goes to the Rockets. They played good defense through the entire quarter.

Ultimately it's too much. The Rockets take advantage. Martin gets an and 1. Rockets hit a three.

Jazz are down by 8 when the third quarter ends.

It's interesting that every recap I've read places most of the blame for the loss on the bench. And it's true the bench didn't play great. But the reality is the Rockets began their move when the starters were in. And it happened because the starters went with the no-assist offense while the Rockets P&R'ed them to death on the other side.

Fourth quarter

What more is there to say. What the starters ... well, started ... the bench continued. Soon they're down by thirteen. The Jazz fight back (led primarily by Millsap) and Raja's gif-able three and polite words directed to the opposition. But after drawing within two, they can only manage a layup and five free throws over the final four and a half minutes.

Game over. Jazz lose.

Final word

It wasn't a horrible game at all. Houston is a decent team, in line for a playoff spot, and we were facing them in Texas. But it's still frustrating. It's frustrating to lose, to drop lower in the standings, to know the hard times aren't over yet ... and to be left wondering:

What is being accomplished?

I also one last thought. One that I wonder about a lot. Al Jefferson had a good game. Not an awesome one like he had against the Wiz. But a good one. 10-20, 23 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks. Derrick Favors had a very forgettable game: 1-7, 5 points, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 2 blocks.

It's so easy to say one guy showed up and the other didn't. But here's the strange truth: Al started the game 2-8. The next game, at the time I started watching the Jazz-Spurs game, Millsap was ... 1-7.

So what would Favors end up with if given the PT of Millsap or Al. Would he have made 8 of his next 12 shots like Al? Or 5 of his next 10 like Millsap?

And, of course, it's total conjecture. Favors' shot wasn't impressive at all in the Houston game. So it's hard to imagine him suddenly beasting. But then again, I've seen players have good games after a couple dreadful shots. Even Al and Millsap. You never know.

But it's something to wonder about. For a starter and primary scorer, 1-7 is just a crummy stretch. But for a secondary guy it's a crummy game. There is no working through it, no second quarter to get things straightened out. That's all you get.

CJ went 1-5. And we all fume over yet another inconsistent outing. I wonder, if we really took the time, how many times Karl Malone had a five-shot stretch in which he only made one field goal. Or Hornacek. Or Stockton. Or, if you really want to go crazy, how about Pistol Pete. My hunch is that he may be the all-time leader of 1-5 stretches.

And I wonder if that's the heart of a classic Jazz offense. Getting easy, open, reliable shots for everyone. When every shot you take is either 20 feet out (CJ or Hayward tonight) or contested by two guys in the paint (Favors), well the 1-7 and 1-5 nights will happen. But when the shots are open hoppers from curls, or open layups via backdoor cuts ... well, things are different then.

And in the best of times, that's what the Jazz did. AK, OMSW, KK, and Ronnie B. lived off curls and cuts. And Deron knew how to run the offense to get them open and throw the right passes. And a decade or so earlier, Hornacek did the same. It's funny, he's so often thought of as a 3-point shooter, but he really did 80% of his work shooting off curls or cutting through the paint, catching those over-the-shoulder passes from Malone and then jumping off the wrong foot to float the ball into the hoop.

I honestly thought that nobody played horribly this game. Some guys couldn't score. But they did the little things: the blocks, the defense, the hustle. Isn't that what we always say: if so-and-so's shot isn't falling, I want him to find other ways to contribute. And they did. But it wasn't enough. Not that night. Not when your game plan depends on unassisted post-ups, 22-foot spot-ups, and iso's. Not if the team, as a whole, decides to not play real Jazz basketball.

Final Note, because I know you're dying to know

I'll be writing more on the Spurs game later today. But here's some preliminary stuff: Summary of Jazz plays:

19 P&R's, 17 transition, 15 spot-ups, 11 post-ups, 10 cuts, 9 off screens & hand-offs, 8 offensive rebounds, and 6 iso's.

I love that kind of balance. That is 100 times better. That's more what Jazz basketball is supposed to be about. No wonder that—though still a loss—it was a much better performance.