DETROIT — Three thoughts on the Jazz's 97-83 win over the Detroit Pistons from KSL.com's Utah Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz defense gives Pistons nothing
At some level, the Jazz are just a horrendous matchup for the Pistons. After losing by 33 in Salt Lake City earlier this year, the Jazz blew out the Pistons again in a game that wasn't as close as the scoreline.
Part of it is that the Jazz are really well designed to stop the things that the Pistons want to do. First, Reggie Jackson's game just doesn't work in a world where he's defended by George Hill and Rudy Gobert. He shot 3-11 in the teams' first meeting, and shot 4-11 tonight.
And as bad as things are for Reggie Jackson, they're worse for Marcus Morris. He shot 3-15 in the first matchup, and decided to match it with a 3-15 performance tonight. He's a better player than that, but he's just getting a ton of contested jumpshots that he's missing.
And why are they contested? Well, when the Jazz stayed in front, the Pistons ended up playing a lot of one-on-one ball. It's difficult to get good looks that way, especially with the length the Jazz have defensively.
As always, Gobert was key. He had four blocks tonight, and held Andre Drummond to six points and five rebounds. "He makes up for a lot of mistakes we make on the perimeter," Joe Johnson said after the game.
I don't think the Jazz made many mistakes tonight. "We were really fundamentally sound and we played good defense. I don't give that out too easily," Quin Snyder said. "That's as sound and as solid as we've been in a while."
The Pistons got back into the game somewhat late in the third and at the beginning of the fourth, when both teams put in their backups, but Hayward and Gobert essentially shut things down again. Hayward, for example, was a +30 in this game; the Jazz had a 71 defensive rating when he was in the game. I'm not too worried about that comeback: you can make a case that Detroit's bench is better than their starting unit, and that's certainly not the case for Utah.
2. Jazz's offense gets good looks through ball movement
The Jazz's offense was beautiful tonight, especially in the first half when the Jazz had 17 assists on 20 shots. Over and over again, the Jazz got good looks by moving the ball quickly: in and out, side to side, and around the court to get easy threes, dunks, and layups for each other.
After the game, everyone just explained the passing as a simple consequence of how the Pistons play defense. Stan Van Gundy sends a lot of help towards ball-carriers, making them see bodies and making it difficult to score. That means lob passes for Gobert are open when the Jazz get an advantage on pick and rolls, and he's very, very good at finishing those. When the Pistons take a player off the shooter to prevent the lob roll, then the Jazz could just swing it out.
Gobert's so patient here, faking the pass to Johnson in the corner to then give the ball to Hayward for wide-open three: pic.twitter.com/jaw9WeNSN6 — Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) March 16, 2017
Gobert deserves so much credit for creating this space, and then taking advantage. Here, Gobert gets the ball about 10 feet away from the hoop, and he can't finish because Jon Leuer has helped off of Joe Johnson 15 feet away. So Gobert looks to pass to Johnson, but Marcus Morris helps off there. Finally, Gobert finds a wide-open Hayward for a very, very easy three.
Yeah, a lot of this is that Jackson can't stay in front, and Drummond is a sleepy defender at best. But the Jazz's mentality matters too. I mentioned above how the Pistons default to one-on-one ball when things go wrong. When the Jazz's initial action is stopped, on the other hand, they quickly recycle it and run another pick-and-roll or dribble handoff play. Even bad defenses can stop one or two actions per play, but adding in wrinkles and give three, four, or five looks makes it so much harder.
By the way, another consequence of this is that the ball frequently got back to Hayward, enough for him to score 25 points. You'd think that if a team loaded up on the strong side against Jazz actions, the main beneficiaries would be the Jazz's frequently assisted players: Gobert, Johnson, Joe Ingles, guys like that. Instead, frequently it was Hayward finishing the play, like he did in the video above. If your best offensive player is getting wide open looks, that's a very good thing.
3. About the between-the-legs pass
Let's look at another Gobert assist to Hayward that was perhaps the highlight of the game:
.@utahjazz 💯 pic.twitter.com/NZGhUSUz5H — Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) March 15, 2017
This is something called "blind pig" action. No, seriously, that's what it's called. Morris is trying to stick with Hayward, making it difficult for him to catch the ball on the run where he can easily head towards the basket. But Morris overplays it, so instead, the Jazz pass the ball directly to Gobert, with the intention of feeding Hayward immediately.
Throwing the ball backwards between the legs like Gobert did is pretty smart. Most of the time, that pass has to be a little bit early or late. If it's early, Hayward may not have his momentum going to the hoop, but if it's late, the pass is moving forward, right into where there are surely opposing players in the lane. Like, this late pass worked, but it's a much harder pass, and may not have worked against taller defenders:
Blind pig action for a lob. This is the stuff that gets me excited. pic.twitter.com/FX8PccIsmm — Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) February 10, 2017
Doing it requires a lot of trust, though, and it says a lot that Gobert is capable and confident of throwing that pass without looking. He's such a talent.
Just like with Ingles' once-a-game lob pass to Hayward, it only works because on every other play, it makes sense to trail Hayward as tightly as possible on the perimeter. With Hayward hitting his 3-point shot with abandon recently (he's 14 for his last 25 from deep) and finishing at the hoop with plays like this, Hayward, Gobert, and Snyder are making opponents pick their poison.