SALT LAKE CITY — Three thoughts on the Jazz's 102-92 win over the Washington Wizards from KSL.com's Utah Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz's defense absurdly good to get the win
Coming into Sunday afternoon's game against the Jazz, the Wizards were playing very well, especially on offense. They had the league's 3rd best offensive rating over the last 15 games, and had scored over 100 points in their last 23 games.
And the Jazz limited them to 92 points in 101 possessions, good for a 90 defensive rating. That's pretty good on its own, but when you take into account the other factors, it's crazy. It's not that the Wizards missed a lot of open looks: they shot 36 percent from 3 and 77 percent from the free-throw line. It's just that the Jazz played incredibly solid defense all game long.
The biggest factor that should have ruined the defense was the Jazz's 25 turnovers during the game, their most in a game this season. When you put a defense under pressure like that over and over again, that's usually enough to make them break. And that's doubly true when the opponent has John Wall, perhaps the league's fastest player and definitely one of the best in transition.
The Wizards scored 31 points on those turnovers, which means that the Jazz allowed just 61 points on the other 76 possessions. In general, the league averages 1.23 points per possession on turnovers, 31 points is 1.24 points per possession, so that's about normal. What wasn't normal was the Jazz's half court defense: league average is about 1.06 points per possession in non-turnover situations, the Jazz allowed 0.80 points.
So how were they so good? This won't surprise anyone, but Rudy Gobert deserves a massive share of the credit. He was great tonight, both in space and at the rim. He had four blocks: obviously good, but still somehow understates everything he did well.
Bump, set, SPIKE 🖐️#UTAatWASpic.twitter.com/CGuQ3G0QQR — Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) February 26, 2017
But the rest of the Jazz's starting lineup were fantastic too. Derrick Favors played some fantastic fundamental defense to get his four blocks, just predicting what the opponent (usually Markieff Morris) was going to do and following it inch-perfectly.
And George Hill and Rodney Hood really slowed the league's second-best backcourt in Wall and Beal. Those players ended up with totals near their averages, but neither really got it going until the last six minutes of the game, when the Jazz already had a twenty point lead.
That's just a very good Wizards team that the Jazz just shut down. When the defense is working together, it's just so impressive.
2. Gordon Hayward's performance
The Jazz controlled this game throughout, but it looked a little bit sketchy with 3 minutes to go and a Jazz lead that was cut to eight. And that's when Gordon Hayward took over.
After Joe Johnson missed a late shot clock 3-point attempt, Hayward skied for an offensive rebound and the putback to push the lead back to 10. The Wizards came back and cut the lead to six with two minutes left, then Hayward hit a three to push the Jazz's lead to nine. Then on the next possession, Hayward shot a 20-foot stepback jumper and sunk it, pushing the Jazz lead to 11 and sinking the dagger into the Wizards' hearts.
I thought that the two minute sequence at the end of the game was a nice way to sum up where Hayward's game is right now. First of all, the rebound was just a great play, being engaged and doing the little things at the end of a game, rather than walking back to the other end of the floor.
Hayward's rebound and putback: pic.twitter.com/n2iLQrQGs2 — Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) February 27, 2017
The 3-point shot was an example of Hayward just taking and making the right shot: the defense went under the screen, and Hayward took the high-percentage play and made it.
Hayward's pull-up three after a good Gobert re-screen: pic.twitter.com/pUFBj7GSrA — Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) February 27, 2017
The final shot is just a star turn. That's a difficult shot that he kind of forced, falling away from the basket from long-two-point distance. But he hit it, because he's very, very, very good.
Hayward's tough stepback 20-footer: pic.twitter.com/c9aRTlhJLE — Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) February 27, 2017
Basketball geeks have loved Hayward for years because of how frequently he makes the right play, whether that be a pass, a 3-point shot, getting to the free throw line, whatever. But one big factor that's gotten him recognition this season is how much more frequently he's making the tough play: dunking over people, hitting stepback jumpers in the clutch, etc. Tonight was a great example of how much he's grown.
3. Dante Exum's rough game
On paper, you might have thought this was a game where the Jazz could have used Dante Exum's skillset. Maybe, you could have thought, Exum's speed and defensive length would prove valuable against Wall, and he could get himself to the rim against some non-elite big man defenders.
Well, it didn't quite go like that. Exum was really bad in his 11 minutes, with four turnovers, zero points, and a -12 plus-minus that really fit the reality of the situation. He was out of control on offense, and when he was in the game defensively, the Wizards had a 141 offensive rating. Not great.
It's a bummer, because Exum had played well in his last three games. Granted, that was against some sketchy defenses (Clippers without Chris Paul, Portland's terrible defensive guards, and the Bucks' complete lack of ball control on pick and rolls), but you still hoped that it would be a springboard to something better.
Heck, maybe it still can be, it's only one game. And despite the struggles, Quin Snyder didn't go with Shelvin Mack or Raul Neto instead, sticking with either Exum or Hill, giving Exum a chance.
What's the old Jerry Sloan quote about C.J. Miles? "We can't put diapers on him one night, and a jockstrap the next." Now that they passed up the opportunity to pick up Deron Williams, the Jazz will be counting on some measure of consistency with Exum's performances. Let's see if he can find it.