Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 98-89 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Having no point guards is bad
After a very bad defensive performance against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Jazz came out determined to show that they were, in fact, defensively elite against the Oklahoma City Thunder. They did that!
It’s just that their offense completely sputtered, putting up only 89 points in 98 possessions to earn a 9-point loss. That’s a 91 offensive rating, for those unhappy to do the math.
And truth be told, the performance was even worse from the lineups you’d consider to be more helpful. Sure, the Jazz’s starting lineup of Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert had an ugly 81.8 offensive rating in the game. That’s happened before.
But put in more spacing — Jae Crowder for Favors — and that lineup had a 61 offensive rating. Put in even more spacing — Kyle Korver for Ingles — and that lineup had a 46 offensive rating. These are all exceptionally small sample sizes, but it goes to show how difficult Quin Snyder’s job was tonight. Nothing worked.
It also went a fair way to show that the Mitchell as point guard setup is still a flawed one. Lineups with Mitchell as the point guard have a 102.8 offensive rating overall for the season now, which is well below the Jazz’s overall average of 108.6.
That being said, it’s still better than Joe-Ingles-as-exclusive-point-guard lineups, which have a 96.5 offensive rating. That isn’t pretty.
Here’s what happens with these lineups: the ball stagnates. The Jazz don’t really push in transition, and both Mitchell and Ingles have the tendency to hold on to the ball to start their possessions. Sometimes, that results in good stuff anyway, especially with Mitchell, who is just incredibly talented. But much of the time, it doesn’t mean the easy baskets that the Jazz need.
I get why fans fell in love with these lineups: the Jazz won during the first few games of them! The Magic, the Lakers, the Bulls, the Pistons, the Clippers and Cavs all fell at the hands of those lineups. But those aren’t very good teams, and all have pretty exploitable defenses. But over the aggregate, it was probably the defense that was most responsible for the Jazz’s successes with those lineups.
The Jazz’s injuries have been a useful experiment, exploring the question of “what happens if you don’t have healthy point guards?” But ultimately, I’m pretty convinced that at this point, the answer is “your offense probably won’t be good.”
2. Responding to mistakes
That being said, as much as the Jazz’s offense struggled tonight, the situation would have looked a lot better if they had made more of their point-blank shots. They only made 16 of their 31 shots within four feet of the rim tonight.
O’Neale missed a dunk to begin the game, Crowder missed a point-blank finger-roll that would have cut the lead to three, and Mitchell missed a few layups of his own. Those weren’t enough to turn a good offensive game into a bad one — they still would have been struggling, even with the makes — but it may have been enough to turn the tide anyway.
Here’s the thing, though: mistakes happen. Everyone understands that. What the Jazz need to do, though, is stay engaged even through their mistakes.
Like, here’s the Crowder missed layup. He’s so despondent that he missed the shot that he doesn’t get back on defense, and then the Thunder end up getting two points in transition going the other way.
The same is true after turnovers, by the way. Sometimes, the Jazz will turn the ball over, and then rue their error. But the play is still going on, and the other team might be getting an advantage going the other way.
Honestly, the Jazz are actually pretty disciplined at this most of the time. Watch Lakers games, for example, to see a team that truly doesn’t respond well to their errors. But the Jazz have to be able to keep that same energy even when things aren’t going right.
3. The Russell Westbrook fan altercation
By far, the largest talking point coming out of Monday’s game will be the verbal altercation between Russell Westbrook that took place during the second quarter. For those of you who want the facts and statements from everyone, please check out our article here.
Here’s my thought on it: pretty much everybody’s probably in the wrong. Russell Westbrook clearly is, I mean, he threatened a fan and his wife during an NBA game. That’s not good in any circumstance. I know the standard is unfair, but regardless of what was said to a player, players can’t be threatening fans.
I don’t entirely believe the fan’s version of events. It’s not very logical, even taking into account a heated moment, for Westbrook to erupt over what the fan says he said. Even if Westbrook misheard the fan, there’s enough history there — with evidence — that fans in Utah have said some vile things to players in the past. That’s not good, either. Which you think is worse is probably a matter of perspective. Clearly, the players will largely side with Westbrook, while Jazz fans will largely side with Jazz fans.
But here’s the unfortunate thing: regardless of what actually happened, this incident will raise national notoriety about Utah fans even more than they were in the past, whether it be from Westbrook’s initial complaints last year, or even the Derek Fisher stuff from so long ago. And I don’t think it’s going to be in a “wow, Jazz fans are really passionate!” kind of way, as the buzz was after Game 3 against OKC last year, but more of a “eesh, Jazz fans might really be problematic.”
That’s harmful for a whole host of different reasons, because perception matters. Players might be reluctant to choose Utah in free agency. Any successes that the Jazz have might be tinged in the eyes of the national public. And because I’m from Utah, I care about what people think of the people in our state.
Anyway, a plea to Jazz fans, even though I know this describes 99.9 percent of you already: please be as passionate as possible, but be respectful too.