11 February 2012
Photo Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
In a late night outing on ESPN the well rested Utah Jazz failed to keep up with the Western Conference leading Oklahoma City Thunder on the second game of a road back-to-back. I've been to a small number of games at Energy Solutions Arena and the only losses I've witnessed (with the exception of the playoff position deciding season finale that Boozer sat out in '10) have come at the hands of Durant and Co. The outcome of last night's game wasn't surprising.
I wish I could hate the Thunder the way I hate other Western Conference power houses that have dominated the Jazz in years past. I don't. This Thunder squad is the culmination of an experiment in drafting, trades and small market management that should make Jazz fans hopeful for a similar future and former Sonics fans saddened and outraged at what could have been.
The reality is that when Russel Westbrook goes off for 28 and the trio of Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka go for 63 while the entirety of Utah's starting lineup barely eclipse them with 67 (and for that most part thats an impressive 67), there is little to be done do unless your bench dramatically outplays theirs. They didn't, nor did any of Utah's defensive efforts.
Early in the game the Jazz moved the ball well, got great looks and distributed the scoring load. In the starter's first stint Raja knocked down two threes, Al had 2 assists and 4 boards and while Millsap scored little, he came up with a steal, a board and an assist. Sadly his performance lacked the "I just got snubbed for an All Star spot and I'm going to prove to you why you are idiots" flair that could have saved the Jazz from embarrassment if not defeat. The OKC starters went on a 16-4 run in the third that put the Jazz in the ground for good.
While the second unit kept the game competitive in the second quarter, neither Earl Watson's tenacity or his incessant lobs to CJ Miles would be enough to keep the Thunder bench from keeping the game blown open late in the third and early in the fourth. The return of the starters toward the end of the game did nothing to preserve the Jazz's dignity and the game ended inauspiciously, without any fight from the home team despite a eager and energetic crowd.
A team playing their second game on a back-to-back on the road made a well rested home team go from looking fresh and crisp to dog-tired in two quarters. Its impressive. The Jazz do not have answers for play like this, they won't for a while yet. They lost last night to the fruits of developing around a young core, if they are lucky, they lost to a future in their path.
Just remember, the Thunder had to take their licks too.
The lesson to be taken away from last night's loss is two fold. First, CJ Miles is a player who belongs at the rim. While he shot 0-4 from 16-23 feet from the basket, he was 4-4 at the rim, and while his perfection at the rim is certainly exaggerated by the sheer torrent of lobs delivered by Earl Watson, his career numbers support the premise. At the rim in the last six seasons, CJ Miles shoots 65%, this season alone, above 70%. CJ Miles makes the Utah Jazz a better team when he drives to the basket. His talent isn't in daggers that punctuate the flow of a basketball game in decisive fashion, his power is in consistent interminable drive to the rack.
The second is that Enes Kanter's tenacity increasingly leads me to believe that if there is a three piece core of young talent that this team will take going forward, Kanter is currently the most likely member of the Check ID team to last with this organization. Burks, Favors and Hayward all have big question marks floating above them right now, but Kanter with last night's 5 boards in 14 minutes and a season average of nearly the same is a piece the demands more minutes and more attention.
The future is bright, but the immediate present will be a hard slog. Stay tough Jazz fans, the rewards will be worth it.
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