31 December 2011
The Utah Jazz leave 2011 in the same fashion as the first game of the season just a few days ago: Completely over-matched on the road by a veteran team. The latest damage done to Utah? A 104-89 hammering at the hand of the San Antonio Spurs. And while Utah may sit at 1-3 in this very young season, the Jazz have already faced some tough tests, most of which away from home.
Tonight's game started out favorable for the Jazz, welcoming Al Jefferson back into the lineup after a night off on Friday. After seeing the youth movement in action just a day earlier, how would Al contribute? It started off well, going 7-11 for a 14 point first half. As a team, Utah hung tight in the first quarter, down only 5 after one.
That's precisely when things got out of hand.
Manu Ginobili took matters into his own hands, extending the lead to 12 on his own, including back-to-back three pointers. Utah's perimeter defense took the second quarter off as other Spurs got in on the fun. Richard Jefferson knocked down a couple wide open looks. Matt Bonner, everyone's favorite Jazz killer, got involved. Next thing you know, San Antonio was 7 of 8 from behind the arc and leading by 17. Utah made a quck 7-0 run, but that would be the last time Utah would get any closer than within ten points. San Antonio took a 54-39 lead to the locker room at the half and never took their foot off the pedal.
The main missing component that was so present just a night earlier was a collective team effort. Too many times, Utah was late to rotate, caught out of place, or simply not hustling after the ball. It doesn't help matters that Utah shot poorly from the field at 37%, including an awful 2-16 performance from three. Only two players finished the night in double figures: Jefferson, and steady veteran Josh Howard.
(Photo by Darren Abate/NBAE via AP Photo)
Signing Josh Howard is proving to be a great addition for a young core of talent needing veteran guidance. Howard has asserted himself on offense and defense, consistently finding himself in the Jazz's most effective lineups. Again tonight, despite a +/- rating of -11, Howard finished with 18 points and 7 rebounds in 26 minutes, going 6-6 from the charity stripe. Aggressive to the hoop, even fouling James Anderson hard on a layup as San Antonio led late in the 3rd quarter by 22 showed Howard is ready to show how Jazz basketball should be played: Tough. Young'ns, take note.
Utah finished the game with only seven turnovers while forcing San Antonio into 19. Typically, this would translate to transition baskets and realistically is what kept this game from being even uglier. Utah needed to capitalize better on the Spurs' mistakes, especially considering how lights out San Antonio shot the ball. Alas, I've already segued into the "not so fabulous" portion of the recap.
Gordon Hayward, after being a catalyst for so much of Utah's great play last night, was virtually non-existent. A mere four points in 31 minutes, going 1-9 from the field is hardly how he'd have wanted to follow up such a great performance the night before. Raja Bell also played ghost, going 0-3 and a whopping zero points in 17 minutes. For Jazz fans on the #FreeAlecBurks bandwagon, this would be welcome news. However, Alec only saw three minutes of floor time tonight, all in the final quarter to close out the game. Bell's minutes have continued to decrease, which many have been asking of Coach Corbin since opening night.
Enes Kanter missed a surprise alley oop from Josh Howard in the second quarter. Badly. Although it was a quick, unexpected pass, the resulting gaffe was a facepalm in every sense of the word. Chin up, big fella. Keep working hard, keep your head up and get that next one.
Utah has a day off to regroup before hosting the new look New Orleans Hornets at Energy Solutions Arena. Will Utah iron out some of the team-wide effort wrinkles that were glaringly obvious in tonight's game? Part of the problem seems to be a lack of true direction. Coach Corbin, no doubt feeling his way around the situation, is still putting pieces together with rotations and match-ups. Only four games in, few have truly stepped up to claim their spot as Utah's go to group. Will Monday see yet even more changes and tinkering?
Jazz fans, please remember: This season is young, and so is our team. There will be plenty of growing pains to come, so don't expect major turns of events immediately. Sit back, enjoy the (often painful and bumpy) ride, and look with a hopeful eye to the coming weeks. Players like Josh Howard are slowly but surely making their mark a positive one. Now if we could just get Jeremy Evans and Alec Burks some meaningful minutes...