This was a weird game.
A few weeks ago–prior to the Jazz going on its now six-game winning streak–Jazz radio voice David Locke made the point that the Jazz hadn’t yet had a really good win. That stuck with me.
Since then, the Jazz have definitely collected good wins. Beating the Cavs on the road was a good win. Beating Boston at home in a down-to-the-wire game was a good win. Outside of those, the Jazz have still not yet had what I would call a really good win.
I thought tonight might be. The Sixers were coming off a three game win streak. They have a rotation that is mostly healthy for the first time all year, and have a dominant, former MVP candidate. Granted the team is still without Ben Simmons, but still. I chalked this up to be a schedule loss for the Jazz before tipoff.
And just the opposite happened. The Jazz, on the second night of a back-to-back on the road, absolutely demanded the win and dominated the game. Utah owned the glass, out-rebounding the Sixers 52-34, including a 16-6 offensive rebounding margin in favor of the Jazz. Utah just downright outplayed Philadelphia in nearly every category.
And, maybe that’s not surprising. Coming into tonight, per Cleaning the Glass, Philadelphia was just an average team. The Sixers have the 11th best offense, and the 15th best defense. So maybe slightly better than average. And Philadelphia was also on the second night of a back-to-back, albeit at home and after a shorter flight than the Jazz had from Minneapolis. (Philadelphia beat the Hornets Wednesday night in Charlotte.)
Still, given all the reasons outlined above, it felt like Philadelphia was poised to notch a big win against the Utah Jazz to re-establish itself as a top-tier team.
So, since you are on a Jazz website, and clicked this link for Jazz content, let’s take a broad view of that from a Jazz perspective.
Philadelphia’s star center, Joel Embiid, looked gassed tonight. He had a few highlight plays, but just as many on which he seemed to shrug and say “f*ck it.” Its star guard in Ben Simmons has yet to log a game in his standoff with team management to get traded, instead opting for continual drama off the court. The bench was awful, and the head coach is one who, fairly or not, has often been criticized for disengaging at critical moments.
It’s early, and a Ben Simmons trade for the right pieces could still salvage their title hopes, but Philadelphia looks lost. Compare that to Utah.
Our star center, Rudy Gobert, played with a personal edge tonight and dominated after posting a dominant defensive performance just 24 hours prior. His conditioning doesn’t get talked about enough. He is an incredible athlete. Our star guard played with a selfless poise, and notched 22 points and six assists within the flow of the offense. Utah’s bench and role players played with a deliberate offensive identity and defended as a cohesive unit. Our head coach is a mad-scientist-looking genius, who speaks in parables and probably watches more hours of game film than he does sleep.
After a disappointing second-round flame out to the Los Angeles Clippers last season, it very well could have been the Jazz that found itself in flux. Instead, the team doubled-down on its own identity while adding versatility at the margins.
Last year, both Philadelphia and Utah were seen as darkhorse title contenders. Maybe better, maybe worse than that depending on who you asked. And, like I said, it’s still early. There’s still plenty of time this season for Philadelphia to right its ship, and for the Jazz’s to sink. But tonight proved that one team continues to trend up while the other trends down.
I’m not sure tonight’s win was a really good win, but winning six in a row with the sort of unshakeable momentum that Utah is playing with right now is really good.