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Win over Memphis gets Utah back to winning, but there’s room for growth

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Despite shaky start to the 1st quarter, Jazz get the win due to strong showing in the second.

Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Better late than never with a postgame reaction, right? Last night the Utah Jazz took on the Memphis Grizzlies after two days off. The Jazz had heard all the noise and the criticism. They practiced the day before and many said that despite the easier schedule, they couldn’t overlook anyone. They had to look in the mirror and stop waiting for something externally to save them. After the 1st quarter of last night’s game, it looked like they were still waiting for their deus ex machina. The Grizzlies led 36-32 after the 1st as Jaren Jackson and Jae Crowder combined for 19 of the Grizzlies 36 points. Even worse, the Grizzlies took 7 shots at the rim, making 6 of them. Something that should cause heartburn for a team with the Stifle Tower Rudy Gobert patrolling the paint.

The Utah Jazz offense in the first quarter was surprisingly good, going 10/15 from the field, getting to the line 8 times, 4 of those for Gobert (hello paint touches), and going 4 for 8 from three. However, they turned the ball over 6 times in the quarter.

Then the second quarter, the Jazz finally awoke from their winter slumber. They held the Grizzlies to only 18 points in the quarter. But the punch on offense came from a very unfamiliar place... the Utah Jazz Bench. Jeff Green exploded for 11 points and was electric and the entire Jazz bench had a positive +/-. Joe Ingles was rolling in the pick and roll with Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell was making stepback threes. The Jazz would hold their lead for the rest of the game and get their first W since playing the Grizzlies on their road trip last week.

Rational Reaction #1: The Utah Jazz’s defense was and is the most important key to solving Utah’s identity crisis.

Interestingly enough, it’s the first time since last month agains the Clippers that the Utah Jazz have allowed 18 points or fewer in the second quarter. Fun fact, the Utah Jazz are 9-4 in games in which they allow 20 points or fewer in at least one quarter in a game. It’s almost as though defense is the Jazz’s identity and key to success. Weird!

Don’t call it a comeback quite yet. While the score said blowout, there’s still a lot on the defensive end to be desired for Utah. The Jazz left the game with a 110.6 defensive rating while playing the Memphis Grizzlies team at home. If this is the Lakers, the last thing we’re going to gripe about is a top offense wreaking havoc on the defense and the flood gates withstanding the pressure. But the #26 offense in the NBA without their starting point guard hanging 112 on what should be one of the top defenses in the league still shows the Jazz’s defensive armor has cracks.

Rational Reaction #2: This win showed a lot of positives for the Jazz to build on.

From Joe Ingles on court chemistry with Rudy Gobert in the pick and roll, to the bench’s surprising performance, and the Jazz’s second quarter not being a quarter in which they let go of the rope and run to their cut-man, the Jazz had a lot to build on in this game. The hard thing about Utah this season, however, is they show these type of “hey, they’re learning” games when a main starter is out. Their offense was firing on all cylinders when Rudy Gobert was injured and now they are reinvigorating Joe Ingles in the starting lineup but how can they allow Joe Ingles to be Joe Ingles as the primary playmaker with the starters without benching one of Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, or Royce O’Neale?

After watching the game today—sorry, I had a work holiday party—I took a look at what others had been saying after the game. Andy Larsen said the possibility of switching out Royce O’Neale. I think that’s a good idea, though, I still am in the radical camp of moving Bojan to the bench. It seems insane, but Bojan matches more of the Manu Ginobili mold of someone who can come off the bench and be an absolute gunner and scorer. He can carry an offense and then stagger the minutes appropriately so he can finish with the starters at the end of the game. Ingles gets to get in a groove with the starters and Bogdanovic can be the cold blooded scorer off the bench.

Overreaction #1: The Utah Jazz’s shooting tonight was WAY too lucky.

Utah took a combined 39 shots with a defender within 4 feet or less of the shooter. They shot a combined 23 of 39 and shot 4 for 6 from three. That’s insane. To put that in perspective on the season, the Jazz are averaging a little less than 32.5% from three with a defender 4ft or less near them and 48.1% from two with an eFG% of 47.4%. The Jazz’s eFG% last night was over 60%. So what does that mean?

If Utah shot even 40% (which is still far above their average) from three and 50% from two (which is 2 percentage points above their average), the Jazz would have scored 11 less points in this game. That makes the final score to this game 115-112 instead of 126-112. The Jazz’s—a bit lucky statistical variance—in shooting percentage helped them mask the fact that they took the same percentage of shots in the short midrange—a very not good shot—as they have all season and still shot a poor percentage of shots over the entire season. It also concealed an average defensive performance.

The Jazz take 9.6 floaters per game and shooting 36.8% on those floaters. Last night, the Jazz took 10 floaters and only made 3. That’s 30% shooting on those shots. The Jazz did not change their shot selection, they made incredibly difficult shots and it paid off. Once again, that’s not a reliable long-term strategy.

Overreaction #2: Eliminate the floater from Donovan Mitchell’s repertoire.

I touched on it in the last paragraph, but Mitchell shouldn’t be looking to add a floater to his game. His skill is getting the line. By taking floaters, he misses out on the chance to create contact. Less And-1 opportunities, less free points, and he’s not putting maximum pressure on a defense and getting the opponent into foul trouble.

Donovan Mitchell is shooting 44% on all floaters. He shoots a better percentage on midrange jumpers than the floater. He even shoots a higher percentage on turnaround jumpers. Yes, he shoots a better percentage on a shot in which he doesn’t see the rim until right before firing up a shot. Let Donovan Mitchell be the Mitchell we know he can be with his athleticism and finishing ability. Let him create contact at the rim and put pressure on a defense. Hell, let him shoot more long twos. Anything to avoid more floaters.

Under-reaction #1: A win against the Memphis Grizzlies does not prove a thing

Ed Davis had it completely right a couple days ago when he said, “We’re in that fire right now. It’s gonna go either way — it’s either we’re gonna come out and it’ll be like, ‘Damn, they bounced back,’ or shit can get ugly. ... We’re a veteran group, good coaching staff, guys who wanna win, so we can turn this thing around.”

The Jazz are in a damned if they do, damned if they don’t position because of not performing at their fullest potential. If they win these many easy games over the next few weeks, no one is going to bat an eye or hype them up. Why? Because, of course, they should. No one gives out gold stars for doing the minimum expected.

A win in which shot selection stayed the same, defense was shaky minus one quarter, and the opponent was one of the worst teams in the league that only has 6 wins to their name (one of which being agains the Jazz) is not something to hang on a refrigerator. Can this win be the beginning of good things for Utah? Most definitely. If anything, it showed a lot of what Utah still has to work on without the nasty consequence of a loss.