All eyes are on the the Jazz now.
Aside from the most hardcore writers and Jazz fans, this Jazz/Rockets series is a crash course in Jazz basketball for the casual fan and national writer.
Despite winning 50 games the Jazz drew arguably the third best team in the league. Even more frustrating is that the the Rockets style counteracts a lot of what the Jazz do well. Their switching style makes it difficult for Donovan Mitchell to get open lanes to the basket and the Harden isolation into a Capella lob is almost impossible for any center to stop, including the actual best defensive player in the league, Rudy Gobert.
For someone not used to watching the Jazz, watching this series could give the impression that the Jazz aren’t as good as their 50-win season indicates.
Now is the chance for the Jazz to prove everyone wrong. Unlike during the regular season when most writers sleep through Jazz games or hand off assignments to the writer at the bottom of the totem poll, they have to watch now.
Game 5 gives Utah the chance to prove themselves or validate the lack of eyes on the team.
For three games it’s looked like the Jazz might not show the things that made them such a great team for stretches of this season. Game 4 that all changed.
Because Quin Snyder has started Jae Crowder at the 4-position the last two games it has opened things up for the Jazz offense and given more opportunities for Donovan Mitchell to drive to the rim. In game 4 Crowder was the hottest player to start the game hitting multiple threes and driving to the rim. It provided the offense necessary, outside of Donovan Mitchell, for the Jazz to take an early lead.
On top of Crowder’s hot shooting, Rudy Gobert continued a positive trend from game 3 of timing his defense on the Harden drive better and better. In game 3 he had 7 blocks and game 4 he continued to disrupt the play holding James Harden to 8/19 shooting from the field on a night he shot 6/12 from three. In Game 3 the national writers talked about Harden having a “bad shooting night” but don’t even think to consider how much of that was caused by Gobert. Gobert is also showing something Jazz fans already knew, he can step out to the perimeter and guard while also shifting back to protect the rim. The fact that he’s also blocking more and more of Harden floaters proves just how remarkable a defender he is.
Rudy Gobert challenged 27 Rockets shot attempts over the 2 games in Utah.— Ben Dowsett (@Ben_Dowsett) April 23, 2019
Rockets makes: 10
Gobert blocks: 10
Rockets FG%: 37%
When things tightened up in game 4, Mitchell took over in the 4th doing what he’s done over and over during the season. In the playoffs, it’s been nothing but the same.
Outside of great performances by Mitchell and Gobert, the Jazz have gotten nice performances by role players like the aforementioned Jae Crowder, Royce O’Neale and Derrick Favors who has been a beast against second units. Outside of those two it’s been hit or miss at best. Much has been talked about the Jazz’s inability to hit open 3’s and rightly so.
Per Second Spectrum, the Jazz have a 56.3 quantified shot quality in the playoffs, the best of any team. Utah is 12-of-64 (18.8%) on wide-open 3s (no defender within 6 feet), the worst of any team in the last five postseasons. https://t.co/5zk6BfRyA4— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 23, 2019
Ricky Rubio has been a mixed bag but has had some nice moments. The most disappointing player this series for Utah, by far, has been Joe Ingles. Here are his numbers for the series.
Probably one of the most impactful players from last year’s playoffs, Ingles has almost completely disappeared. I don’t think anyone has a very good idea why, either.
Now, with their backs against the wall each game, it’s time for the Jazz role players to prove themselves. Game 5 is the proving grounds for these players and who wants to be a part of this team in the future.
This offseason the Jazz have a lot of potential cap space and are surely willing to trade players to create more if a potential stud in free agency wants to come here. There are only so many years to take advantage of the Mitchell and Gobert primes and the Jazz have to surround Mitchell and Gobert with shooters.
I loved this video of Bob Meyers talking about the importance of players who perform in the playoffs. There’s a message here for the Jazz.
Former UCLA basketball player, NBA agent and current Warriors President of basketball operations, Bob Myers, explaining beautifully why you judge players in the playoffs. Not the regular season. When players constantly underperform in the postseason it’s NOT a coincidence. pic.twitter.com/1zh3J02lRN— CLIPPERS 2019 CHAMPS (@SubThoughtz) March 11, 2019
This game 5 is as important as ever for the Jazz to prove themselves to all the doubters out there. It’s also a chance to prove their core to potential free agents and it’s a chance for their own players to prove they’re a part of a winning future. No pressure.
Game 5 is going to be fun!