The Triple Team: Jazz lose in Miami, but play extremely well given the circumstances

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo fouls Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 13, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 119-115 loss to the Miami Heat from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. The energy in the last game of a six-game trip

The Heat were favored to win this game by 8.5 points tonight, the second-largest spread of the night behind only the Celtics and Rockets. That’s a big spread for a game between two teams separated by just three games, but it makes sense: the Jazz were on the final night of a six game road trip. Both teams had Sunday off, but the Jazz were also shorthanded with Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton out, while the Heat weren’t really missing anyone. (Okay, they were missing Cody Zeller. He played for the Jazz in preseason! He’s not especially good.)

And yet, the Jazz’s energy was absolutely off the charts good. They pushed in transition over and over again. They won the rebounding battle. Their defense featured a ton of movement, help, and doubling. If anything, the biggest problem for the Jazz tonight was that they were too exuberant defensively, going for too many gambles and especially fouling the Heat way too often.

A couple of energetic defensive possessions:

Look at Simone Fontecchio’s work in that possession. Jazz trap high, and both Fontecchio and Kris Dunn sprint to double Bam Adebayo down low. That forces a good Adebayo pass, but Juan Toscano-Anderson is there. Jones then sprints to the wing to get the open wing player, Lauri Markkanen runs out to Tyler Herro, leaving Fontecchio to guard both Adebayo and Kyle Lowry in the corner. Incredibly, he does — he plays it perfectly.

Or something like this: Ochai Agbaji goes for the steal, and misses it... so Kelly Olynyk helps, and Agbaji sprints back to get Olynyk’s guy. On the miss, the Jazz have two players in good rebounding position — even though Gabe Vincent ends up getting this rebound, they’re in the right spots and battling, I think.

And then this is just Kessler flat-out running past Adebayo. No reason, just wanted it more. In the fourth quarter of the sixth game of a six game road trip.

Yes, the Jazz lost tonight. Still, the energy being there even now, with a month to go until the end of the season, was a pretty impressive thing — and I think is a positive sign about the culture that head coach Will Hardy and the rest of the Jazz are trying to build.

2. The small lineups

I’m a little bit surprised that the Jazz keep trying these small lineups without a traditional center out there. We’ve seen it in the second-unit non-Kessler minutes in the fourth quarter recently; tonight, the look to begin the fourth was Kris Dunn, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Simone Fontecchio, Rudy Gay, and Lauri Markkanen.

Tonight, it didn’t do horrendously — only a -3 in its five minutes on the court — but it’s not been a great look for the Jazz overall. Those second unit minutes without a traditional center (even counting the likes of Kelly Olynyk or Jarred Vanderbilt) have seen the Jazz outscored by 22 points per 100 possessions this year, albeit in a pretty small sample size of only 138 total plays.

Meanwhile, Damian Jones was actually a +10 tonight in his 12 minutes on the floor. I didn’t think Jones was great today, but those lineups did work better than the small one in a small sample size. (Jones lineups in general, though, are a -13 with the Jazz... quite bad, but somewhat better than -22!)

I do think that this Jazz team can operate without a traditional big screener in ways that the Quin Snyder Jazz couldn’t. Part of that is because they have some pretty decent screeners among their non-centers. Markkanen’s really figured out timing and how to get himself open, Dunn’s been a physical pest type of screener, and Gay has picked-and-popped enough now. They move around and confuse the defense enough to get reasonable shots.

I just think the defense isn’t going to consistently work. If you’re switching everything, that’s all well and good, until the opposition finds a mismatch that is ugly enough that you have to help.

Honestly, Martin probably could have had the layup there, but the Heat got the three instead.

Markkanen, theoretically, should be the perfect switching center in theory. But I’m not sure he has the feel on defending in the interior on an island, like he was asked to here.

And maybe that’s why the Jazz are giving these lineups a go, to give Markkanen that experience now so he can grow, and potentially be that player if the Jazz need that later in a playoff series down the road.

3. Simone Fontecchio’s new career high, and 🤌

Simone Fontecchio had already garnered a new career high in points by the middle of the second quarter. His career high was 17, and he had 19 at halftime, before slowing down a little in the second half to end with 23 points overall.

And again, it was the versatility of his approach that stood out. Yes, he made 5 of 11 threes as the foundation of his success, but he also found space inside to score, too.

By the way, I’ve been curious about something, and finally thought I’d look it up. In particular, the use of the pinched hands emoji (🤌) in talking about Fontecchio. It’s done often, including by the @utahjazz social accounts.

My question, essentially: is the pinched hand verbal hand cue a good stereotype or a bad one? Maybe my stereotyping monitor is too high, but I was concerned that essentially we were making fun of Fontecchio, or his culture, every time that emoji was used. It would be a kind of a jerk move!

It turns out that I needn’t have worried. In the 2019 “Pinched Fingers Emoji Proposal,” a 14-page document to Unicode the emoji standards people, Italian author Adriano Farano successfully explained why the emoji was a good idea, using pop-culture evidence of how it was essentially a beloved symbol of Italian culture.

In short, the literal translation of the gesture is along the lines of “What do you want?” In practice, it’s frequently used in conflict. As the document points out, “The intensity of your inquisitive attitude can be communicated by the velocity of that movement. Coordinate both hands, and you will express an overwhelming sense of disbelief to your interlocutor.” However, it’s not always bad: “The emoji can be used in a wide spectrum of situations to express a general sense of interrogation.”

Interestingly, the gesture has been essentially adopted by a whole bunch of other cultures. A recent study showed that some kids adopted it to describe the stress of an impending deadline, K-pop stans picked it up because it was closest to another hand gesture they used, and crypto bros used it to mean money. And finally, a smaller number of people, but still statistically identifiable, used it to mean, essentially, a chef’s kiss — pride in creating something so aesthetically great that we must kiss all of the fingers that made it.

That last interpretation is the most applicable to Fontecchio’s shooting. And given that it appears Italians embrace the 🤌, then we should too.

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