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SALT LAKE CITY — Three thoughts on the Jazz's 88-83 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans from KSL.com's Utah Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz win ugly game with defense
Occasionally, the circumstances of a game mean that the outcome is pretty predictable. Both the Pelicans and the Jazz played last night. George Hill, Joe Johnson, and even Shelvin Mack were out due to injury for the Jazz. And with two big men on the floor necessary at all times because of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, it was always clear that tonight's game was going to be an ugly and physical battle.
This was very, very, ugly, though. The Jazz had 19 turnovers, but the Pelicans apparently wanted to one-up the Jazz and had 20 of their own. The Jazz missed 60 percent of their shots, and the Pelicans missed 65 percent. There were long, two-to-three minute stretches where neither team scored.
So what made the difference in the end? Well, the Jazz executed well in the first and fourth quarters offensively, and then played solid defense throughout.
It wasn't just the Jazz's bigs that played well defensively: Dante Exum and Raul Neto played well on Jrue Holiday, for example, to limit him to only four points on 1-9 shooting. He averages 16 per game, and the Jazz did a great job of containing him to tough shots.
But let's be honest, it was Derrick Favors and especially Rudy Gobert that deserve the lion's share of the credit. Anthony Davis scored 20, but it took him 17 shots to do it, and he added five turnovers. Favors was guarding Davis most of the night.
And Gobert was special against Cousins. Cousins scored 15 points on only 5-15 shooting, added four turnovers and only picked up eight rebounds, none offensive against Gobert.
I saw a lot of people on Twitter attacking Cousins during the game for his constant complaining and general bad attitude. And they have a point! But I think it's worth noting what Gobert was doing to frustrate Cousins, especially at the end of the game.
Here's one play from early in the game. Gobert bodies Cousins up, then once Cousins gets past him, Gobert recovers to block the attempted reverse dunk. It's just smart defending.
#DPOY 🖐@rudygobert27#NOPatUTApic.twitter.com/yXp0OS1dXd — Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) March 7, 2017
And then late, Cousins chose to isolate against Gobert in three consecutive possessions. Gobert used his body to prevent Cousins from making easy progress to the basket, and Cousins just panicked.
Boogie throws up a bold shot here: pic.twitter.com/yNh6OEgZvz — Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) March 7, 2017
I think 10 or 20 years ago, a center like Gobert would have been put on a diet to put on some weight to deal with big men of Cousins' size. After all, Cousins is a bully at 270, and Gobert weighs just 250 despite being three inches taller. But the NBA figured out that weight isn't all that useful, actually, not compared to length and athleticism. Gobert just uses his quickness, and when Cousins tried to power through Gobert, the collision caused just as many problems for Cousins as it does for Gobert. Hence, the turnovers and the difficult shots.
By the way, here's how the season series is going for Cousins vs. Gobert: not well.
2. Offensive execution good early
During the first six and a half minutes of the game, the Jazz scored 24 points, and it kind of looked like they would cruise over a bewildered Pelicans defense. Given that that scoring stretch was what let them get out to a lead that they would never relinquish, it was probably the determining factor in the game. Let's look at what happened, and why the success stopped.
Here's the first play of the game. The Jazz run Hayward off a handoff pick, and then another screen by Exum to get him a wide-open jumper to begin the game. Solid.
Spain PnR out of HORNS. The Jazz get Hayward moving by coming off a down screen, handoff and the Spain screen consecutively. @bballbreakdownpic.twitter.com/hlA6n1DfUU — Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) March 7, 2017
Here's another play, with impressive ball-movement leading to an easy Jazz basket. Even Snyder seemed impressed after this passing:
Jazz ball movement in 1st quarter: pic.twitter.com/72JPWIbGAl — Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) March 7, 2017
Of course, the Jazz's offense didn't work well for long this game. Two things happened. First, the Jazz had to make substitutions. Alec Burks, Raul Neto, and Boris Diaw are just not as much of an offensive threat as the players they replace in the lineup. The Jazz didn't play their starting lineup again until the beginning of the second half.
And then the Pelicans adjusted too. They started to use their talented big men to switch off of the mid-range big man and help towards other actions. That meant that Hayward, Hood, Exum, and the rest didn't have space to do what they were used to doing.
That's why the Jazz so frequently go to the small lineup at the end of games: once teams make adjustments to help more, the easiest way to nullify that adjustment is to space it out so that the help is too far away. Without Johnson or Hill, that's impossible, though.
3. Well, it's good the Jazz didn't sign Solomon Hill
Remember before the season, when it was reported that the Jazz and free agent Solomon Hill had mutual interest in the Jazz signing him in free agency? I remember reading that Hill was seeking a nine to 13 million dollars per year contract, and nearly choking. I honestly thought that was crazy. After all, Hill was coming off a year where he averaged 4.2 points per game. He did have a nice playoff series, where he averaged 7.7 points per game.
And then, more credit to him, he actually got that money from New Orleans! He has a four year, $48 million contract that starts this year.
He's been horrific for the Pelicans. He's shooting 38 percent for the year, and 33 percent from 3. He does play solid defense and always has played solid defense, but he's a problem on offense: the Jazz just sank off of him and let him shoot, sending help to every other Pelican.
Hill ended up with 0 points on 0-4 shooting, 0 assists, five rebounds, two steals and a turnover in 20 minutes. The Jazz outscored New Orleans by 24 points while he was in the game. That's not good. And yes, Hill's had better games in a Pelicans uniform, but not many, certainly not enough to deserve the money.
Given the Jazz's salary situation, I imagine that the Jazz's interest in Hill essentially ended once the Pelicans offered him a four year contract worth more than $5 million per year, let alone $12 million. And even at that, it's probably good that he signed with another team. Bullet dodged, regardless of how close the bullet actually was.