We just returned home from a lovely spring break. We left before Game 1 on Sunday and returned last night. Maybe because of our vacation or maybe because Houston is the one team in the West I really didn’t want to play, I feel no connection to this series. I caught just a few minutes of Game 1. We got to our hotel in time to watch the end of the 2nd quarter. The beginning of the 3rd was great but as soon as we were down only 5 and Houston went on an ever quick 10-0 run, we, like the Jazz, were done. We didn’t watch Game 2. We were out when it started but when I checked the score and saw we were again down 10+ so early on and saw tweets saying “I can’t believe Quin stuck with that defense” I knew we weren’t turning it on when we got home.
Game 3 we watched from tipoff to the buzzer. Surprisingly, I wasn’t upset with the loss. It was kind of expected, right? The Jazz were playing the best they had the entire series, and Harden was shooting poorly, but the Jazz still could never pull away. The lack of offense when Donovan is off his game is disturbing. Donovan started the game beautifully but then began to struggle when his teammates couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean.
The Jazz continued to bomb away from three, attempting 41! The Jazz only made 12. I know that statistically the three is a much smarter shot, but goodness gracious! When it’s not falling, please try something else! Make smarter plays; try something different on offense to get yourself going. Don’t just jack up a bunch of threes.
One of my biggest issues with this Jazz team is exactly that. I know that Quin’s offense generates the most open looks but maybe, just maybe, there is a reason Jae Crowder is open? Maybe just maybe we should try something besides 41 three point attempts, when it is clearly not our strength!
The Jazz’s offense is struggling big time. The Jazz have shot a miserable 25.5% from three. That is the very worst among all playoff teams. Even worse than the Detroit Pistons, who are playing the defensive stalwarts, Milwaukee Bucks. The Detroit Pistons, who are a .500 team going against the Bucks who own the best record in the league, are shooting a better percentage from three than we are. Our three point attempt rate is 3rd - just behind the Rockets (who are making them) and the Orlando Magic. Our three point attempt rate is higher than the Warriors, and they can make threes! Maybe we can learn from the Spurs. They are shooting the fewest threes but they are winning. They are playing to their strengths. We are also allowing Houston to score 114.7 ppg, that is 4th worst in the playoffs. For a team that prides itself on defense, that is pretty dang bad.
So what now?
It will be interesting to see how the Jazz come out tonight. Will it be like the Deron William teams who faced elimination from the Lakers for three straight playoffs and just didn’t show up on the last game? Are they too discouraged after losing a close game in Game 3? Will they show some pride and make a game out of it?
In the first game I tweeted this:
Looks like the Jazz players wanted to play the Rockets as much as we wanted them to play the Rockets.— Diana (@dianaallen) April 15, 2019
I still stand by this. Game 3 was different. It was nice to see them play the Rockets closely. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are the clear foundation of this team but they can’t do it alone. I do think like the Deron William teams against the Lakers, the Jazz just have a mental block against this Houston Rockets team. This Jazz team tends to surprise, I hope that is the case tonight but I don’t think it is.
Jeremiah Jensen from KSL wrote a great piece about why it was good for the Jazz to play the Rockets in the first round. While playing any other team would have been fun. If playing at our highest level we probably can win a series against anyone in the West aside from this Rockets team and the Warriors. If we play how we are playing now though we probably lose to any team. Anyway back to Jeremiah’s article.
While failure isn’t fun here is the truth; the Utah Jazz stand to gain a lot from this experience against the Rockets that can prove valuable moving forward and accelerate their process of becoming an NBA title contenders.
Sure, if the Jazz drew the Blazers, Thunder, Spurs or Nuggets in the first round they would have had a much better chance of earning another playoff series win. However, this matchup is giving the Jazz a true measure of where they stand among the NBA’s elite. I argue it was better to face a legitimate NBA championship contender, a team that features the reigning league MVP in James Harden, and get a more accurate assessment of where they stand.
The Jazz’s weaknesses have been exposed in this series. This team needs more firepower. The Jazz need another playmaker. They need more shooting. Donovan Mitchell needs more help. As good as he is and has been in just two years in the NBA, asking him to carry this much of the load offensively at his age is too much. Rudy Gobert needs more help too. He’s the defensive player of the year for a reason but we’ve seen against a contender like the Rockets that Rudy can’t be everywhere and cover up every defensive mistake.
I agree. Dennis Lindsey has a clear picture of what we need. I thought that was the case after last year’s series loss against the Rockets, but there is no mistaking our weaknesses this year. There are no excuses. Apart from Dante Exum, our team is healthy. We are not missing any core pieces. This is our team. No excuses.
Not all is doom and gloom. I am not upset. This is a wake up call for Dennis Lindsey and Quin Snyder. In all honesty, they knew how this series was going to go as soon as somehow landed the Rockets the last day of the season, in that crazy 2 in a million chance. We have a bright future with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert as our leaders. We also have a clear view of what needs to be done to make our team from good to great, to make the Jazz the contenders. Rudy as a rookie outlined with Dennis Lindsey how to make our team a championship team. Donovan Mitchell has carried this team on his back offensively for two years. He has done more than any Jazz rookie and second year player has been asked to do. He is an all-star, he will be an all-NBA player. Kyle Korver said it best about Donovan:
5-10 years from now you won't remember Donovan Mitchell missing a wide open 3 late in Game 3 against the Rockets but you will remember what Kyle Korver said about Donovan after the loss. #TakeNote #TeamIsEverything #nbaplayoffs pic.twitter.com/hgUNb44vQN— Jeremiah Jensen (@JJSportsBeat) April 21, 2019
Jeremiah transcribed what Korver said:
“I have never been around a young player like Donovan Mitchell. I have never seen someone so young take ownership of a team, take ownership of his play, do it with charisma, do it with class. Never seen that in my 16 years in the NBA. He missed a tough shot tonight, but it’s just going to be part of his story. If you’ve played any meaningful basketball in the NBA, you have a shot like that. If you don’t, that means you haven’t played in meaningful games, or you haven’t been trusted by your teammates or coaches to take that shot. I don’t care who it is in history, everyone has a shot they want back. This is going to be part of the story at the end of the day. Because of who he is, he’s going to put too much on that shot, but we missed free-throws, we missed dunks, we missed layups, we missed threes. It was not about that shot. It was not about that shot. We had so many more chances to win that game. But I’m super proud of him. He came out and like, he heard that he hadn’t played as well as he wanted to in the first couple of games, and he put the whole thing on his back. For a young guy, 21 years old or whatever he is, that’s really special. He is on a great path in the NBA. At the end of the day, this is just going to be part of his story, part of his journey. He’s just going to keep building on it,” said Korver.
This team is special. With the right moves, we can be very special. This Houston series is the wakeup call the Jazz organization needed.