SALT LAKE CITY — Three thoughts on the Jazz's 97-88 win over the Denver Nuggets from KSL.com's Utah Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Gordon Hayward takes over the game for the Jazz late
Tonight's game felt a lot like Wednesday's loss against the New Orleans Pelicans — for the first 43 minutes, anyway. Just like Wednesday, the Jazz underperformed early in the game, especially defensively, leading to a closer-than-it-should-have-been game. Just like Wednesday, the score was tied with 5 minutes left, this time at 84. And unlike Wednesday, this time, the Jazz dominated the final 5 minutes to win.
What was the difference? I asked Quin Snyder that.
"If we try to find drama every time we win or lose, if we close or don't close, we're going to kill ourselves, and you guys are too."
Okay, fair enough. Sometimes shots go in, sometimes the other team plays well, sometimes the ball rolls your way, sometimes none of the above occurs.
Here's my non-dramatic reason the Jazz won tonight: the Nuggets went to a less effective scheme on defense than the Pelicans had. The Nuggets chose to switch screens between their point guard and small forward, so the Jazz were running those plays to get Gordon Hayward isolated on Jameer Nelson. Once Hayward had the mismatch, he used his newfound post game to get easy shots, find open teammates, and go to the free throw line.
Hayward worked on his post game this summer, and continues to work on it with Jazz assistant coach Antonio Lang before every Jazz home game. Tonight, that added facet of his game allowed the Jazz to take advantage of what the Nuggets were giving them.
Could Hayward have done what he did at the end of the game last year with his post game?
"No, definitely not. That was a big point of emphasis this summer for me, and still this year," Hayward said. "It's something that we can try to use to close the games. We can definitely use that to our advantage."
Hayward's +20 at the end of the game was easily a game-high for any of the 21 players who played tonight, the next closest was Alec Burks' +9. Hayward's versatility made him difficult to defend all night, and he finished with 26 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists.
2. Jazz poor on the glass
For the third consecutive game, the Jazz had a subpar performance on the offensive glass. One reason the game was close down the stretch was the Nuggets' dominance of the offensive rebounding glass, picking up 15 offensive rebounds to the Jazz's 5.
Generally, that's been a real strength of the team's, getting the offensive board on 27% of their missed shots, the third highest percentage in the league. Even with Rudy Gobert out, the Jazz have had some great offensive rebounding games, most notably against the Pacers, Kings, and Thunder.
But as this stretch of "a lot of games in not very many nights", as Hayward put it, has gone on, the team's energy level on the glass seems like it's decreased. Only 3 players picked up an offensive rebound tonight, and usual offensive rebounding stalwart Trevor Booker didn't pick up any in an otherwise good game.
This seems like a simple story about the consequences of fatigue. The Jazz are taking tomorrow completely off — as one assistant coach told the players after the game, "don't even think about basketball."
3. Shootaround work pays off
Today's shootaround before the game at 10 AM was a fairly strenuous one, as far as these things go. The Jazz, Rodney Hood explained, use the shootaround as an opportunity to work on their habits so that they're fresh on the same day as the game.
Recently, the Jazz have had their habits collapse, especially on the defensive end. The team came into tonight as the very worst defense in the league since Rudy Gobert went down with an injury, and early, it seemed like more of the same late.
But tonight, the Jazz allowed the Nuggets to score just 97 points per 100 possessions, a good score. One big reason for that was the Nuggets' inability to make their 3-point looks: they were only 6-28, 21 percent, from behind the arc.
Derrick Favors explained that one big topic at shootaround today was the team's closeouts at the 3-point line.
Some of the Jazz's defense there was certainly luck, as the Nuggets missed some wide-open ones. But some of the Nuggets misses were due to good last-ditch closeouts by the Jazz's rotating defense, which is nice to see.