Jazz streak comes to an end
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - This strategy the Jazz seem to favor, the one where they spot the Grizzlies an 18-point lead before starting to fight back, has a hole in it.
A gigantic, 7-foot, Pau Gasol-shaped hole in it.
There were no 20-0 runs for the Jazz on Friday, no miracle rallies to erase the ugliness that preceded it. This time, the Jazz received exactly what they earned with a walk-don't-run effort: An 87-65 loss and the end to their feel-good five-game winning streak.
Gasol scored 27 points and grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds, mostly, it seemed, because he chose not to pile
up about twice that many. Yeah, he probably could have, considering the Jazz's defense mostly consisted of grabbing a body part as he drove past.
"Is anybody going to . . . guard him?" Sloan yelled loudly (and a bit more colorfully) during the first quarter, when Gasol matched the Jazz's 14-point start by himself. He even added seven assists and four blocks, the sort of all-around game the Jazz usually count on from their own European forward.
But Gasol is the Grizzlies' best player, perhaps an All-Star this year. (He's got Andrei Kirilenko's vote, the Jazz forward admitted after the game.) When he plays well, it's no surprise.
What was far more mystifying, though, was the Jazz's collective yawn toward playing the game. Sloan was begging for effort from the start, and other than Kirilenko, who scored 20 points and made eight of 14 shots, he never really got much. This from a team that had not lost in two weeks and trumpeted its renewed confidence in each other.
"I was definitely surprised," Sloan said. "I thought we would come with a lot more energy. I don't know how you could work to get to .500 like we [did], then come out with this kind of effort."
OK, the Grizzlies are the NBA's best defensive team, granted. But even Mike Fratello's surprising team had never held anyone to 65 points this season.
The Jazz? Heck, this putrid outing doesn't even rank among their two worst, and the season is only 33 games old. Kirilenko aside, the Jazz's starters combined to make 7 of 33 shots, or 21 percent. The bench was 9-for-31, or 29 percent. Deron Williams, a hero against the Lakers on Tuesday, was 0-for-5. Guard Gordan Giricek, who was averaging 14.3 points over the past week, was 2-for-12. And Mehmet Okur's 2-for-13 included three missed layups.
"They put pressure on us, and we got farther and farther from the basket," Sloan said. "I thought we were going to have to be at half-court to try to start our offense."
They never recognized opportunities to take advantage of Memphis' defense, never ran simple backcuts to free players underneath, Sloan growled. "If you can't understand that, you're never going to have a chance against good teams," he added. "You'll play against teams like ourselves."
Ouch. That doesn't sound like a coach who had a winning streak going. He's seen this one before. He likes it better with the miracle ending.
"It was almost the same ballgame we had in Salt Lake City," he said. "They got ahead of us, we got back within eight or nine, it looks like we're going to get in the ballgame, and then we start doing crazy things."
The Jazz set themselves up for a rerun by trailing by 18 with three minutes to play in the third quarter, roughly the same point where they suddenly hammered the Grizzlies with 20 straight points on the day after Christmas. And they feigned another big comeback, forcing four straight Memphis turnovers and holding the Grizzlies scoreless for more than four minutes.
But how can a team score 20 straight when they never managed to score 20 in a quarter? The Jazz eventually closed the gap to nine, 66-57, but then sent Memphis to the free-throw line on five of the next six possessions. Game over.
Kirilenko tried to rally his teammates - "I tried to say, 'OK guys, let's try to pick it up. Let's cut [the lead] every single position,' " he said - but even his lone energetic example was a mistake, Sloan said. By trying to do too much, he forced his teammates to do too little.