The last time the Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies tangled was back in December, and Utah pulled off the 97-91 road upset. Things were vastly different back then. For one, both Alec Burks (34:13) and Rodney Hood (21;25) played for the Jazz, while Zach Randolph did not for the Grizz. Since then the Jazz have had a revolving door of sorts for NBA-DL players in a search for wing depth, and the Grizzlies made a three team trade with the Boston Celtics and New Orleans Pelicans. Many players changed zip codes, but the end result for Memphis was getting Jeff Green.
Would the Jazz steal another one against one of the best teams in the league? Or would Memphis continue their domination and roll to another victory? Well, cat should be out of the bag at this stage because the game was two nights ago. The Jazz did manage to lose, but it was a competitive game that highlighted the various strengths and weaknesses of both sides.
Utah jumped out to a 7-2 lead on the sleepy bears, but their consistent defensive pressure forced numerous turn overs. The sleepy bears also have a patient offense, one where open shots are created, or Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol go one on one off of post ups. Some of the shots Zach got in the first quarter surprised me. Not that they went in. Well, maybe his half court bank shot at the buzzer surprised me it went in. But what surprised me is how the defense by the Jazz bigmen (and he gave the business to all of them in turns) just let him shoot from 5-8 feet from the rim without even getting a hand up at times.
The first quarter was close, with Memphis being impressive with their consistency, but the Jazz were not out of it. Jeff Green punctuated a drunk in the middle of the quarter, and that seemed to wake Memphis up a bit. With Joe Ingles as the only Jazz starter out there Memphis went on a 6-1 run. Either due to better game planning, better talent, or better cohesion, their mixed lineups (starters and bench together) were more competent than what the Jazz could muster. The Grizzlies kept the pedal to the metal with their bench guys going on another 5-0 run to start the second.
The game could have turned at that point, but Quin Snyder put Derrick Favors back in the game and the team went on a 9-1 run. The Jazz had the game back to a much more manageable score, only for Memphis' starters to come in and push back. Their 12-1 run extended the lead to 16 points. Their bigs were doing their thing, and the team was passing very well as a hole. I can't tell you how many open jumpers were surrendered, the big way to break our defensive sets appears to just be patient and keep passing the ball around. The Jazz went on a 9-0 run to end the second quarter. Utah avoids being down by big, but is still down by seven at the half.
Enes Kanter had a strong scoring first half, but Dante Exum and Joe Ingles only had 2 points. Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward are almost performance locks at this point, but it's hard to stay close to a great team when you have so much catch-up to play. And while Memphis was consistently methodical, Utah was consistently inconsistent in the first half. There were just too many turn overs. Either from overly cavalier pass attempts, lazy pass attempts, or poor IQ plays. Or, you know, the fact that you're playing against Memphis, which is a defense first team that has previously gone to the Western Conference Finals with this core.
After halftime the Jazz and Grizzlies exchanged blows, and mini-runs, but there was little appreciable difference in the actual score. I will say the Jazz defense was better, forcing Memphis into rushed shots and one-and-dones; but the offense got proportionally worse. Part of that, well, the major part of that was Memphis turning up the defense. Gordon Hayward played 11:37 / 12:00 minutes in the third quarter and only took one shot. If not for the play of Trey Burke and his 10 pt (4/5 FG, 2/3 3PT) quarter, the Jazz offense would have really sunk to the depths of the sea of futility. Memphis is specifically the type of team that would crew up former Jazz teams, and spit them out. But now the confidence level and one on one ability of guys like Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke really help find openings in the defense that are harder to create. Dante Exum and Joe Ingles are great at probing the defense too, though need to call their own numbers more. I only bring this up because the former Alfense was predictable to defend, and involved less movement by the offense. If you were stuck in the Memphis mud you'd die there. Here the Jazz keep moving and attacking. It's not always successful, but the Jazz did make up +1 points in the margin going into the fourth quarter, at home.
As Matt Harpring said in the early 4th "this is a winnable game," however, well, the team did not get it done. Memphis is just too good, and like a prize fighter with good endurance, knew that they would eventually prevail if they just stuck with their defense and counter attacked at the right times. And they did. The Grizzlies went on a 10-2 and 7-2 run in the quarter to extend the lead. Yes, the Jazz were close at times, within 6 points a few times, but couldn't get over the hump.
For the game, Memphis was efficient, while they shot *only* 47.5 fg%, they did make 6/13 (46.2%) of their threes, and 18/22 (81.8%) of their free throws. They only turned the ball over 9 times, and of their numerous misses, grabbed 11 rebounds back (26.2% of their misses). Zach Randolph finished with 18 and 11. Marc Gasol at 23 and 6. Both bigmen could almost score at will against anyone not named Rudy Gobert. But they did still score around him. Also of note, both of them also had 4 assists each, and combined for 2 turn overs. Not bad.
Mike Conley had 17 points, and was mostly invisible to me, I guess I was more interested in what was happening in the paint. Jeff Green was efficient, as always, but I think Kosta Koufos made a bigger impact on the game overall. The KOOF had 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 block and 1 steal. His defense and just overt size kept the Jazz from converting on offensive rebound plays -- and that's one of the things the Jazz do best.
We're at the point now where Gordon Hayward hitting three threes on his way to a 15 / 4 / 2 night is now a "bad" night for him. Derrick Favors didn't get the ball much, but manged to finish with 11 and 5. These are not the numbers you'd want from your two guys making $12+ million each this season. But hey, Memphis is a great defensive squad.
Enes Kanter finished with 16 and 10, but did it in Al Jefferson fashion -- he needed 18 shots, passed very little (kinda got robbed of one of his assists though, boxscore shows only 1), and was able to help himself look good without making a bigger impact on the game. I still love him, and he started to make jumpers again. This is important going forward.
Off the bench Trey Burke scored 21 points (7/13 shooting, 3/8 from downtown, 4/4 from the line), had 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, and was much more effective than he normally is. Rudy Gobert was his normal self, but only blocked 3 shots tonight. Only.
If it was Memphis' goal to let Kanter and Burke try to beat them, then it was a good game plan. Energy guys can only fill in so much when the top guys are being defended so well. It was nice to see Kanter and Burke step up. The Jazz are on the path to being a good team. The Grizzlies right now are a great one.
Losing by 10 isn't fun, especially not at home, but our guys didn't give up. They didn't hang their heads. And they kept fighting back. After all, one way to look at it is that the Jazz fought hard and lost at home. The other is that it took the Grizz 10-2 and 7-2 runs in the 4th quarter to finally have enough breathing room to escape with a win against our young team.
It was a good game, even if I still don't understand how Memphis scores, at all. I guess fans of other teams can ask the same thing as we start Dante Exum and Joe Ingles, and they combined for 4 points in this game.