OAKLAND — Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz's 126-101 loss to the Golden State Warriors from KSL.com's Utah Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Diagnosing the Warriors' third-quarter run
The Jazz had only a 1-point deficit, trailing 62-61 with 6:55 left in the third quarter. And then the Warriors caught fire, going on a 28-8 run for the remainder of the quarter.
There were trends telling you that this might be possible: the Warriors have the best offense and defense in the league in the third quarter, where they outscore teams by an average of 23 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, the Jazz are the worst defensive team in the league in the third quarter. For some reason, they allow 113.6 points per 100 possessions in that quarter.
That run started because of the Warriors' talent: Klay Thompson nailed a three, then Kevin Durant did. Shaun Livingston hit one of his famous fadeaway midrangers that he's elite at. In other words, the kind of shots that make the Warriors the defending champions.
But I thought, after that, much of the Warriors' run was really avoidable by the Jazz, the kind of thing that would have been sorted out by just keeping a high level of focus.
After the above, there's a stretch where Durant scored five points in thirty seconds. That's certainly not unprecedented, as Durant is an all-world scorer. But in order to get those points, Durant was just grabbed by Joe Johnson for an easy free-throw, then was one screen away from a cutting dunk on the ensuing inbound. Then, he was just one screen away from driving the middle for another easy dunk.
Johnson either needs to be stronger when defending the ball or the Jazz just have to send more help to prevent wide-open dunks so consecutively.
Later on in the quarter, the Jazz's bench transition defense was found to be severely wanting, not after turnovers but after simply missed shots. Donovan Mitchell missed a layup, Kevin Durant got the rebound and Jordan Bell had a dunk literally two seconds later. On the next possession, Alec Burks missed a three, and this time there were seven seconds between the rebound and the Patrick McCaw layup. On the next possession, Hood even made a shot, and the Warriors dunked the ball 7.2 seconds later.
Or here, and this one is after a make pic.twitter.com/tVpnc5Tyya— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) December 28, 2017
It's impossible to defend well when you're letting the opponent score that quickly in normal shot situations. That's typically been a strength of the Jazz, but it wasn't in the third quarter tonight.
"We had a host of mental errors in the third quarter," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the game. "We weren't focused on doing our job. If you make a mistake, they'll make you pay." And the Jazz paid repeatedly.
2. Thabo Sefolosha plays well, leads first half Jazz
After getting a chance to sit out on Tuesday, Thabo Sefolosha started Wednesday night's game against the Warriors, taking advantage of the three-man platoon system Snyder has seemed to set up at the power forward spot.
Sefolosha played really well and was a large reason the Jazz held the lead after one quarter and trailed by just one in the second quarter. His level of defense really made some of Kevin Durant's shots tougher in the first half, and he picked up two steals and a game-high six deflections as well.
The good news: Thabo Sefolosha was very good, getting two steals and a game-high six deflections pic.twitter.com/yo2B0UXzot— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) December 28, 2017
The highlight of his game was Sefolosha's surprising dunk, when he drove down the lane and just quickly flushed it in on a taken-aback Zaza Pachulia.
Sefolosha's been this summer's best signing for the Jazz, showing off actually a really-nice movement-based skillset on offense while disrupting things on the defensive end. He's making just $5.25 million this year, and his contract for the same amount next year is actually not guaranteed. The Jazz can waive him before July 1 if they choose to.
Obviously, given his good play so far, Sefolosha is safe unless the Jazz are able to make a big splash in free agency. But at that dollar amount, he also might be a nice trade chip for a contending team that could really use his skillset. It's also just nice to have good role players on the Jazz. Sefolosha's been an important veteran presence on the team, talking to Mitchell and even Tony Bradley frequently on their roles and how they can help the team.
3. Ruh-roh road record
The Jazz are just 3-15 on the road this season. Only two teams have worse records: the 2-11 New York Knicks and the 2-12 Charlotte Hornets.
That comes a season after the Jazz had a really good road record, 22-19 last year. They're even on pace to surpass the road difficulties shown in their 25 win season of 2013-14, Ty Corbin's final year, when they went 9-32 on the year.
Why has it been so bad? One of my colleague's theories went like this: The Jazz have slipped on the defensive end this year, and defense travels. Therefore, they no longer have their defensive calling card to allow them to win tough road games.
But I sort of disproved the "defense travels" theory in a study two years ago, it turns out that it travels slightly less reliably than offense does. And indeed, the Jazz's offense has slipped more than the Jazz's defense has this season by three points of offensive rating to one point of defensive rating.
So maybe that's part of it: that the Jazz no longer have a reliable offense to win their road games when the going gets tough.
I probably have a better theory, though, and it's just a lot simpler: the Jazz have played an exceptionally difficult road schedule so far. Out of those 18 games, the Jazz have only played six games against teams that are below .500.
And even among those six, the Jazz seem to find them when they're playing at their best, like playing the LA Clippers when they were healthy at the beginning of the year, the Phoenix Suns right after firing Earl Watson, when they won four straight, or the Chicago Bulls in their seven-game win streak. The Jazz just haven't had hardly any of the gimmes yet.
That changes a little bit in January: they'll face the Charlotte Hornets, Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks, Suns, and Memphis Grizzlies in that period. To avoid ignominy, the Jazz will have to win those games at a better rate.