Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 114-97 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. The defense lost the plot
The Jazz had played seven really good defensive games in a row coming into Thursday night’s matchup against the Sixers, and it really seemed like they had figured out the defensive bite that had made them special over the last two seasons, even creeping up into the top five of the league overall defensively for the season.
And then against the Sixers, it all came apart. The Jazz allowed Jimmy Butler to get four wide-open dunks due to missed communication, let J.J. Redick get open from three time and time again, let Joel Embiid get inside for easy shots, and even let the likes of T.J. McConnell hit open shots from midrange. Every shot that the Sixers wanted to get tonight, they got.
I honestly think that some of the problem was that they got a little bit too cute defensively, at least for the level of focus that the team’s defense showed. For example, they had Derrick Favors guard Ben Simmons to begin the game. I like the idea of that matchup a lot: Favors' strength and length is enough to really bother Simmons inside, and it means that you don’t have to help a ton on one of the best finishers around the rim in the league, which doesn’t open up Simmons' superb passing game. It just makes sense.
But when Favors is guarding a point guard, that means everyone else has to move down the positional spectrum. And, for whatever reason, they were just terrible at figuring out each individual matchup on a possession-by-possession basis.
This play is the perfect example. Simmons comes down the court, and so Favors goes to guard him. Donovan Mitchell steps to him at first, but sees that Favors has him, and by the time Mitchell figures out what’s going on, Butler’s at the rim for a dunk.
You just have to be able to figure that kind of thing out. The Sixers got so many points tonight on those kind of scramble plays, where the defense has to be able to quickly fan out and determine who is guarding whom. Credit to the Sixers for reliably finding that gap in the Jazz’s defense and quickly taking advantage, but when a team doesn’t do the basics, its easy to figure out.
2. Late communication, late help
Even when the Jazz did get a possession to go deeper into the clock, they still just didn’t deal well with some threats, waiting far too long to call for help when they were clearly beaten.
Redick led the Sixers in scoring with 24 points, and some of it was just brilliant shooting from an excellent shooter. But far too frequently, the Jazz made it easy for him by giving him the kinds of shots he likes to take.
Here, Mitchell is defending Mike Muscala from the beginning of the possession — it’s another cross-match situation. Mitchell does a good job of stopping the first threat when Simmons uses the Muscala screen, but when Redick gets screened off Rubio, he’s calls for help too late, and Mitchell’s just in the wrong place.
Again, a lot of this is dealing with an unusual situation. It is unusual that Mitchell has to guard someone Muscala’s size, someone who screens twice in a row. He’s rarely had to deal with that. So Mitchell gets the first screen right, but then when presented with a second (number) one just a second (time) later, he’s not thinking about the danger on the play, the differences between the threats of Simmons and Redick, and that Muscala isn’t really much of a roll threat.
This play isn’t an unusual situation, though, just Mitchell getting beaten on a screen, then realizing he’s going to need help too late. By the time he points, Butler is already well on his way to the alley-oop.
Who do you blame on this? Should Mitchell anticipate the threat and tell Rudy Gobert that he might need help sooner? Or should Gobert realize there’s a threat happening, and take a step back to prevent the lob? The answer is probably both! It doesn’t hurt Mitchell to communicate sooner in this sort of situation, and Gobert probably needs to have the defensive awareness to realize that Butler’s cut, not Muscala, is the bigger threat here.
3. Kyle Korver’s off-ball movement
Kyle Korver is the oldest player on this Jazz team at 37 years old. He’ll turn 38 before the season is over. Butdespite that, he’s also the player that *moves* the most on the court, despite his age.
We know this for sure because of Second Spectrum’s tracking, which measures the movement of all 10 players on the court 60 times per second with cameras high in the rafters above the court in the NBA’s arenas. Korver isn’t the Jazz’s longest-distance runner on a per-game basis, an honor which is a tie between Mitchell and Joe Ingles, who both run 2.23 miles per game.
But on a per-minute basis, Korver’s the winner. He runs 1.44 miles per game despite playing just 18 minutes each contest, which works out to about 240 feet of movement every minute of game action.
It also makes him hard to guard. So many players would see Ingles struggling on this drive and think “Well, my job is to space here to help out, let’s just get out to the corner.”
But Korver’s movement back behind Ingles gives him a last-resort option at the end of the shot clock and also puts him in better position to begin to defend a possible turnover. In the end, the result is a four-point play that really got the Jazz off to a solid start.
Of course, like nearly everyone else on the team, Korver’s play faded late, and he was beaten defensively a few times. Still, he ended up with the Jazz’s best +/- total of the night among non-garbage-time players.