Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 117-114 loss to the Atlanta Hawks from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz 3-point defense wasn’t good enough
Back in February, when the Jazz played the Hawks for the first time this season, I thought their defense was a little lacking: they gave up 112 points, but allowed Atlanta to shoot 46 threes overall. Sure, they only made 14 of them, but I thought the Jazz got away with a few open Atlanta misses.
So did Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce, and he admitted as such before the game. “I hope they defend us the same way, honestly. We found a lot of holes. I remember coming out of that game and kicking ourselves. We shot 46 threes against a team that doesn’t allow threes at that volume, and I’d take every single one of them that we got in that game. It was just one of those nights.”
Tonight, the Hawks got fewer threes, but made more of them. Ultimately, that was the biggest part of the difference: 19-40 tonight was a lot tougher to withstand than 14-46 was back then.
The Jazz were just too careless with this stuff. Dewayne Dedmon is a 37 percent 3-point shooter this year on four attempts per game. It does not make sense for Rudy Gobert to just wander into the paint here with Trae Young blanketed by the longer Ricky Rubio. Sure, I guess his closeout was hampered by the trip, but why make yourself vulnerable to begin with?
And then this is a transition miscommunication, the type of which happened far too frequently for Quin Snyder’s liking. Thabo Sefolosha has to be more aware of what’s going on on the floor, then Mitchell has to make a tough choice between Vince Carter in the corner or Kevin Huerter from deep.
It’s just the kind of stuff that the Jazz pride themselves on, the discipline to make things hard on their opponents. Whether it was the back-to-back, or the Hawks getting out in transition, the Jazz didn’t do it consistently enough tonight.
2. The fours’ defensive impact
Jae Crowder’s at his best when he’s using his aggression in the Jazz’s defensive scheme for good, making things difficult everywhere. Whether it’s using his hands to be aggressive in the pick and roll, or trying to force the offense out of what they like to do, Crowder can be a pest.
But tonight, it honestly seemed like he was aggressive to the massive to the detriment of the Jazz. Here, he steps towards Trae Young way too late, by the time Crowder is able to lurch forward, Young’s in the paint dishing to John Collins for a dunk.
Again, here Jae’s assignment is to contain in pick and roll, but he’s so easy to get past that the result is someone’s wide open. Rudy Gobert goes to help, and Collins is open for a three in the corner.
If he’s jumping forward but completely out of position, it’s just a gift of a basket for the opposition. Salt City Hoops’ Dan Clayton had more gory Crowder defensive details on this Twitter thread, if you’re interested.
But I thought Sefolosha also left a lot to be desired, whether it be the transition defense mentioned above, or hanging out in no-mans land on this three, neither helping nor staying attached to Carter.
The critical alternative is Derrick Favors. I get why he didn’t play late: the Jazz were spacing starved, but clearly needed Rubio out there on the floor because he was keeping the offense alive while allowing Mitchell to play off the ball. And, the Hawks were playing with a lot of spacing on their end of the floor, with Collins and Len both able to space to the 3-point line. But Favors can probably guard both of those guys, and with Crowder and Sefolosha both having bad offensive nights too, Favors would have been my pick.
Ironically, I asked Snyder about how well Crowder had been playing before tonight’s game, and he has been playing well. Tonight was a very notable exception; he finished without a made basket and with a -17 on the floor.
3. I like the Hawks way more than I should for a 25-48 team
25-48 is not a good record. But the Hawks seem like they should be way more than that, really pretty soon.
It starts with Trae Young, who said he had a bad game tonight, and still finished with 23 points and 11 assists. He’s very good at manipulating defenses and finding the open man, and while he’s really bad defensively, his offense seems like it will be at the level where he’ll be able to stay on the floor and star for the Hawks.
John Collins is nice, too, though he hasn’t really shown it in the Jazz matchups. And after I — and the Jazz’s front office — wanted Kevin Huerter in last year’s draft, he’s showing why. He’s a perfect modern-day shooting guard, with the ability to shoot in all sorts of different circumstances on the court. He has some playmaking ability, too.
Also, their coach, Pierce, is wonderful. Maybe it’s just that he’s in the first year of his tenure as a head coach, but he’s so transparent and open about his gameplanning and tactics. It’s not in a way that’s damaging to his team, but it’s legitimately educational for us in the media and gives us some insight into what his team is doing and why.
The quote in point No. 1 is a good example, but he also went into an interesting discussion about how the Jazz use more dribble hand-off plays than the rest of the league, and how that plus Snyder’s tendency to repeatedly move the ball side-to-side makes them difficult to guard without making a mistake. His teams are also very analytically savvy on both ends of the floor; they take the right kind of shots.
They’ve been trending upwards as their young players have gotten better throughout the season. Clearly, they’re many pieces away, but one could be coming in this year’s NBA Draft. If they get Zion Williamson, that would be fun.