Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 125-116 loss to the Detroit Pistons from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Undisciplined Jazz have worst defensive night of the season
Will Hardy was pretty clear about his team’s defense tonight:
“Very poor. I think we’re doing a very poor job at pick and roll defense. I’ve got to do a better job of teaching that, we are laying on screens. Our pick-up points are bad. We’re not physical with the ball handler.”
Yeah, I agree with that. Overall, the Pistons got so much of what they wanted, especially inside, and the result was a season-worst defensive performance against a bottom-10 offensive team missing two of its top five players.
Last game, the problem was largely transition defense. That was bad again tonight, too. But the half-court defense was more worrying, truth be told.
Sometimes, it was a loss of focus. Collin Sexton gets beaten backdoor here, mostly because he’s ball-watching and not his man.
Jarred Vanderbilt is usually a sponge on defensive rebounds — I don’t remember a Jazz player who usually tries harder. What’s this? (And why isn’t anyone helping him?)
Kelly Olynyk is in position to help here... and then bails on it.
If the Jazz are going to continue to be good, they need to bring better possession-by-possession defensive efforts. It’s hard to play like you did in Game 1 in Game 20, I understand that. But the reason why the Jazz lost to the Pistons tonight, in a game they were favored to win by 12 points, is because they let down on too many defensive responsibilities again.
2. Collin Sexton’s career high in assists
Collin Sexton got a lot of criticism when he wasn’t playmaking well, and I think fairly so. Tonight was a real turnaround game for him, though: he got a career high in assists with 12.
There’s some really good stuff in those assists, too, with Sexton using his aggression to set up his teammates, rather than drive into dead ends. This is after a made basket, but Sexton sprints down the court to draw the defense, then finds Walker Kessler over the top for an easy layup.
Here, Sexton’s open for his own 10 footer, but he finds Malik Beasley with a better and more efficient shot over the top. Great vision!
He can isolate against Isaiah Livers, then use the collapsing defense to find a cutting Olynyk for an easy dunk.
He can sprint up the court, find Beasley, and get his best 3-point shooter open by handing it off and bumping the defender a little.
These are all smart point guard plays! Very good manipulation of space and defenders in order to get his teammates open — the kind of stuff a super athletic Mike Conley would do.
Can I tell you my favorite thing in all of these videos, though? He celebrates after each of his assists. He’s jumping up and down after a second quarter assist to Kessler. He has his hands up in the air as Beasley’s shooting the three. He’s truly enjoying the success of his teammates, and finding joy in more than just the scoring.
I really hope this can be a turning point for Sexton. If so, it would be huge for his pathway to a long Jazz career moving forward.
3. Game ops talk
This is going to be a pretty niche point, for all of the fans who attend Jazz games at Vivint Arena. We’re going to talk game operations, or “game ops” for short — that is, all of the stuff that happens at the arena while the game isn’t going on. Timeout entertainment, on-court halftime shows, pre and post-game stuff, and so on.
And here’s my unfiltered truth: the Jazz are pretty bad at it right now.
As part of this job, I’ve been to every road arena in the league, and gone to hundreds of NBA games outside of Vivint Arena. Jazz fans are top tier. The remodeled Vivint Arena is also top tier. The in-game experience, besides the game, is not.
Tonight, the halftime show was two random fans having a contest to see who could name more Thanksgiving foods and holiday traditions, then trying to catch footballs thrown from the crowd by Jazz Bear, then trying to play Password with clues on their foreheads. This is very low-level entertainment not befitting an NBA franchise! It’s the latest in a long line of weird and disappointing halftime shows over the past couple of years. I miss Red Panda.
Frankly, it was a tough job for co-arena emcee Andrea Urban to be able to carry something like that halftime show. Andrea is great, but it was too much for anyone. New emcee hire Mike Goodkind is really loud, and he’s clearly new to Utah — as evidenced by him saying “Utah” roughly 30 times per game when he was first brought in. But he’s getting better as he gets more experience, and he does enunciate clearly so that he’s able to be heard over the sound system, something past emcees have failed to do.
(Speaking of the sound system, it’s really rough — perhaps the worst in the NBA.)
There are some good timeout entertainment options, and some bad ones. The best of the bunch is the Qualtrics putting contest — a very good and suspenseful contest with real stakes behind it. I also don’t mind the America First shell game with the coins, nor Press Your Luck with Jazz Bear as the whammy symbol.
The LGCY Power “timeout party”, where they turn the lights off and play an obnoxious video on the Jumbotron, is decidedly not a good time. It’s an eye-rolling experience. The Jazz dancers, frankly, have some of the worst choreography in the league. I think that’s partially because previous owner Gail Miller really held them back, but every NBA teams’ dancers’ routines are more impressive, and so are the Utah’s college dance teams I’ve seen.
The stunt team, which took most of its performers from the Weber State stunt squad, was quite good — that’s been eliminated. The dunk team also has yet to make a performance this season, I suspect they’ve been eliminated too. We haven’t seen old solid standbys like baby races, puppy races, trike races, or shooting contests.
Player videos seem not to exist for the Jazz this year. There’s no videos of the players doing trivia contests or answering prompts or telling fans to get loud — or showing personality in any way.
Fan giveaways are rarer in Vivint Arena than for other teams. I know they have T-shirt slingshots, but we haven’t seen much of those this year. No T-shirt Gatling gun, either. Those all get fans engaged, but for some reason have been eliminated. Crumbl cookie giveaways are good, but in only one section — everyone else knows they’re not going to get a cookie.
Gifs of Malik Beasley screaming and Jordan Clarkson celebrating are hits, and rightfully so. The Chik-Fil-A free-throw promotion is great, just as it is for many of the league’s teams.
Finally, I’ve got to say: the game introductions have been awful this year. This is the song they play right before tip off.
This is a fine song, and I have nothing against Nardo Wick. It is very low energy. It is not a hype song.
To be clear, that the Jazz’s game ops are some of the worst in the league is not just an Andy Larsen opinion. This is an opinion of the majority of the people who travel around the league and have no choice but to notice some of this stuff. It is a credit to Jazz fans that they are as loud and engaged as they are, despite all of this.
I want Vivint Arena’s in-game entertainment to be as good as Dallas’, Memphis’, Portland’s, Atlanta’s, Sacramento’s, Chicago’s or Philadelphia’s. Jazz fans deserve better.
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