Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 137-116 win over the New York Knicks from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. I can’t anymore with these defenses
The Jazz have won the last five games by at least 15 points, which at least shows that they’re capable of taking care of business, I suppose.
But this stretch of games is really testing the limits of what I thought possible with NBA defenses. I’ve criticized the defense of Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, then tore into Jabari Parker in Washington, and then I was faced with this abomination in New York.
They’re just really, really bad at talking to each other, communicating in any way. There were so many times where two players switched onto one guy for no reason, or they try to switched and then nobody did, or just general lack of awareness.
Like, this play I actually sort of understand: sure, Kevin Knox is the only player between the rim and Donovan Mitchell, noted good dunker. But he’s guarding Kyle Korver, so you can’t just let him be open either. So that Knox scoots out of the way is goofy, but you get it.
But this one is weirder. Why in the world does DeAndre Jordan think Ricky Rubio is such a threat that he has to help on him and contain him, leaving Rudy Gobert wide open under the rim? That sounds like a bad strategic decision!
Also, what is Jordan doing here? He seems neither focused on defending nor rebounding, and so Gobert gets the easy putback dunk. Mudiay also could have made some effort against Gobert, but no such effort was made.
You can give the Jazz some credit for putting the Knicks in these tough binds, where Knox has to make the decision to leave his man or not, I guess. But if you’re going to switch and help as often as the Knicks, you have to be able to work together as a team to make it happen, and they’re awful at that.
2. Ricky Rubio drawing fouls
Ricky Rubio had a really nice night for the Jazz, and was a big part of getting them going offensively. He finished with 12 points while taking only two shots, thanks to his ability to draw the trips to the line that earned him 10 free-throws.
How did he go to the line so often? By understanding when his defender could be exploited.
This one’s a good example. Mario Hezonja is a wing, and he’s backpedaling, so he’s already pretty uncomfortable when guarding Rubio attacking him. When Rubio drives at him, he sticks his between him and Rubio, meaning he’s no longer in a legal guarding position. Hezonja’s arm causes Rubio to lose rhythm, speed, balance, and quickness, and Rubio flops to sell the contact.
This probably was going to be a Nash dribble-baseline and around play, but as soon as Knox decides to go for the steal, Rubio raises his arms to go for the layup.
There are times when Rubio tries to draw fouls and it doesn’t work. This happens especially against experienced defenders who know how to foul just subtly enough, or far enough from the watching eyes of a referee, to get away with it. The Knicks, though, are young and dumb, and the perfect foil for this kind of efficient trick.
It wasn’t just that, though: Rubio had a nice passing game tonight, too, with nine assists and only one turnover in 20 minutes.
3. Nice night on the scoreboard
It was a nice night for the Jazz on the scoreboard-watching front. While Utah picked up the expected win against the Knicks, the Spurs lost a somewhat surprising game to the Miami Heat, and the Rockets surprisingly lost to the Memphis Grizzlies. That Memphis team is really tough.
The best result of the night wasn’t a surprise, but it sure was helpful. The Oklahoma City Thunder had an 11-point deficit to the Toronto Raptors with about 3 minutes to go, and somehow came back and tied their game in regulation to send it to overtime. But once they got there, the Raptors pulled away, winning 123-114.
The combination of results moves the Jazz from seventh to fifth in the Western Conference. It would be a huge boon to the Jazz if they could stay above the Thunder; doing so would make it less likely to face the Rockets, for one, plus give them a much higher chance of finishing with home-court advantage in the first round.