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SALT LAKE CITY — Three thoughts on the Jazz's close 95-91 win over the Philadelphia 76ers from KSL.com's Utah Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz win despite playing poorly
The Jazz were taking care of business against the two-win Philadelphia 76ers until about the 7 minute mark in the third quarter. The home team had a 17 point lead, and things were going smoothly.
Things were then unceremoniously dumped into sticky molasses. For the next 12 minutes of action, the Jazz scored 10 points in 26 possessions an offensive rating of 40. They shot 3 for 19 from the field, and turned the ball over five times. On the defensive end, too, the Jazz seemed stuck, allowing the Sixers to shoot 56 percent and score 29 points in that stretch. Quite frankly, they're a little bit lucky it wasn't worse.
Now, this didn't just happen on it's own: the 76ers absolutely turned up the defensive pressure with their physicality. In the first quarter, it didn't seem like the Sixers cared on that end at all, but in the second half, they started chucking the Jazz on screens, cuts, and everything that had worked to get the Jazz open in the first half. We've seen the Jazz wilt when faced with physical intensity in the past, and they certainly did during this stretch tonight.
In the end, the Jazz responded with their defense, rather than their offense. The Sixers 13 points in the 4th is the lowest total allowed by the Jazz in that quarter all season. That being said, the Sixers were also generous in their shotmaking, missing a few open looks, including an opportunity by Ish Smith to tie the game at the end.
Gordon Hayward summed it up. "We escaped with one tonight," Hayward said. "We wanted to give everyone their money's worth, I guess."
2. Withey has great game, but doesn't play much in the 4th
Jeff Withey had his best statistical game of the season tonight, picking up a new season-high in points with 11 and a new career-high in rebounds with 12. He also picked up two blocks, and contested many other shots. In the 24 minutes he played, the Sixers scored 20 points in the paint. In the 24 minutes he didn't, the Sixers scored 32 points in the paint.
Withey is a little bit of a remarkable story: he's probably Utah's best big man available right now, and he was signed on a partially guaranteed contract after no other teams gave him a shot. His great NBA skill is shotblocking: he's the Big 10's all-time leader in blocks, but NBA talent evaluators were worried if that skill would translate to the better league. It did. Withey has put up an above-average PER in all three of his NBA seasons, and he's been incredibly valuable in his role so far this season.
So much of the Jazz's defense is predicated on the Jazz having an effective rim protector in the middle, and Withey's ability to provide that has allowed the team to play good defense whenever he's in the game. That's been true all season long: the Jazz are allowing 90 points per 100 possessions when he's in the game, by far the best average of anyone on the team.
That also meant it was surprising when Withey played just two minutes and 50 seconds in the 4th quarter. Instead, notoriously inconsistent defenders Trey Lyles and Trevor Booker played for longer stretches. Quin Snyder explained his rationale:
"Trey Lyles allowed us to space in the corner, whereas if we had Jeff and Booker in, it's a different matchup. Late, we decided to switch pick and roll for the last few possessions because Smith was getting in the lane ... being able to switch pick and roll allowed us to play smaller."
I think the right play was probably playing Lyles next to Withey, just as the starting lineup sets up. Withey's presence in the game probably makes Noel's go-ahead alley-oop dunk, the 76ers final points, much more difficult. Booker wasn't contributing anything offensively in the 4th quarter anyway, and Withey's a fair bit more capable than Booker in both man-to-man defense and help defense.
The other factor here, though, is Booker's place at the heart of the team, and in particular, his ability to play with energy and an edge. It's hard to bench that guy in critical minutes, even if he makes mistakes, because he does have a tendency to provide a spark. The Jazz needed a spark in their play in the 4th, and while I'd argue they never really got it, you can see what Snyder was thinking.
Withey, by the way, credited assistant coach Antonio Lang for his ability to be moved into the starting lineup and be a contributor. "We talk all the time and go over certain situations, and he's done a great job getting me right for this."
3. Update on Alec Burks
During the game, Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that Alec Burks would be undergoing surgery Tuesday on his fractured left fibula. That was actually somewhat of a surprise, because the Jazz had previously reported that "no surgery was required."
After the game, a source within the Jazz told the full story. After four different evaluations by experts in foot and leg injuries, Alec Burks was presented with two options. The first option was to have surgery on the fracture, inserting a plate and screws to help the bone heal quickly in a well-documented timeframe. The second option was to forgo surgery, and allow the fracture to heal by itself naturally.
The upside of having surgery is a more predictable and perhaps faster timeframe for the bone to heal. If Burks has surgery, it's expected that he'll be able to be "load-bearing" on his foot in approximately 2 weeks. If he chose to heal naturally, the wait to be load-bearing would be expected to last about 4 weeks.
The Jazz source used the example of an unnamed professional football player who had a similar injury to Burks. The football player opted against the surgery, and his bone took longer to heal than originally anticipated, costing his team a few games. Burks chose the relative timeframe security of having the surgery done.
Surgery, though, has its downsides: scars, anesthesia, etc. Burks, though, wanted to return as soon as possible to the Jazz. In the end, the official timeframe for Burks after the surgery will still be "indefinitely." However, the Jazz are planning on being without Burks until at least after the All-Star break.