25 March 2012
Where to begin? It all began a long time ago, in a land far, far away…
Ok, so it wasn’t so long ago. But it felt like it. And Atlanta is kind of on the other side of the country. So, I’m sticking to it. And in this far away land, The Utah Jazz began a road trip the way no team wants to kick off a road trip: Playing an extra 20 minutes by way of FOUR overtimes, only to come away with a loss. And plenty of questions will linger after this one, as Utah saw its six game winning streak finally come to a halt.
Tired Gordon Hayward is tired. Photo courtesy of AP Photo/David Goldman
Credit to the team, however, for fighting back after the halftime break after a putrid first half. The staunch Utah defense that shut down the likes of Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant had zero answers for Joe Johnson and Josh Smith early on. Johnson was unstoppable in the first quarter to the tune of 18 points on 8-8 shooting from the field. Utah kept pace with Atlanta for a while, but the Hawks opened up a 55-38 lead just before halftime.
And just like that, this game had “that” feel to it. A lazy Sunday afternoon. Little, if any, execution on both ends of the floor. The propensity for four players to sit and watch while one player went isolation. Basically – major let down. Hardly surprising, though, as Atlanta has always been a tough road win for the Jazz, regardless of which day of the week it’s played on.
With the deficit at 55-40 coming out of the break, Utah responded. Fueled by an outburst of team play and sharing the ball, Utah cut into the lead with an 11-0 run. Then, came another 13-2 run. And just like that, Utah had the lead. Leading the charge was recent birthday boy, Gordon Hayward. Hayward took Utah in a different direction than it had been going all first half, by distributing the ball and creating chances for others. His early second half aggression rubbed off onto the team, as the Jazz scored 34 points on 11 assists – nearly TRIPLING their first half effort of just four assists (Harris with 4, Hayward and Millsap each with 3, Miles with 1).
This carried on into the final 12:00 – Utah grabbing 17 more points on five assists early in the 4th. And as the Jazz had a lead of 91-87 with about seven minutes left, something happened. Rather, something stopped happening. The Jazz scored 7 more points the rest of the way – on ZERO assists – essentially deferring to iso-ball and free throws. Friday’s “ShareFest” of 32 assists against the Enver Nuggets (“D” purposely left off there) seems like a distant, wonderful memory. The Jazz strayed from their sharing ways late in this game to force overtime. Little did we know: It wouldn’t be the only one.
half. All signs pointed to victory, as Utah’s fresh legs and recent winning ways couldn’t be overlooked. Only problem? Nobody could hit a shot. And that included both sides. In fact, the Jazz and Hawks combined for the second fewest combined points in an overtime with a whopping four (statistic courtesy of Brian Smith, @tribjazz). Devin Harris, who had struggled mightily all game, had a chance for the walk off win with a three. Unfortunately, it didn’t fall. On to the second overtime.
Again, Utah had a chance to walk away with a win on the final shot. Again, Devin Harris was the one with the ball in his hands for the winner. He had a decent look at a shot, but couldn’t get his 20-footer to fall. Again, on to yet another overtime.
At this point, Ty Corbin had made no substitutions and guys were looking pretty worn. Jazz Twitterverse exploded as Utah’s same starting five that had played both overtimes in their entirety took the floor to begin the third extra period. The question of “No subs?” flooded my timeline as I’m sure it did many others’ as well. In particular, Derrick Favors had had a fantastic outing in front of his hometown. Josh Smith had fouled out and Millsap was 1-3 in the first two overtimes and looked gassed. Why not give Favors a shot to corral Atlanta’s penetration offense? As Millsap went 0-3 in the third overtime, including another missed walk off game-winner for the Jazz, this question would loom large going into the fourth overtime.
Would Ty make some substitutions and try to win with fresh legs over a tired Hawks team playing a quadruple overtime game on the tail end of a back to back to back? Seems logical, or at least not beyond reason, right? As the fourth overtime tipped off, Utah would field its same starting five. Hindsight is always 20/20, but the calls for substitutions in 2OT and 3OT didn’t go unnoticed, and Coach Corbin’s reasoning for sticking with a worn group certainly warrants asking the question: Why didn’t we try to run this tired Hawks team out of the building late with our youth? Atlanta got off to a hot start in the fourth overtime, ripping off five quick points, sealing Utah’s fate. Al Jefferson, who led Utah with 28 points in 52 grueling minutes, fouled out first. Paul Millsap and C.J. Miles would also foul out, paving the way for Favors and Alec Burks to pull off a miracle. Sadly, the damage was done and that miracle will have to come another day. Utah’s winning streak ends at 6, as the Hawks won 139-133.
A poor shooting night overall saw some truly sad performances:
- Devin Harris went 4-18, including 0-7 3P
- Gordon Hayward shot 4-15 FG, but made up for it with 10-11 from the free throw line
- Paul Millsap – while not awful – went 10-25, but again, struggled late going just 1-6 in overtime periods
- The team shot 38.9% FG (49-126), and only Derrick Favors (4-6) and C.J. Miles (7-14) shot at 50% or higher
Interesting disparity in minutes between starters and bench, considering the total amount of minutes available in the game (48 regulation minutes, 20 overtime minutes). Again, this at least warrants the questioning of Coach Corbin. Given that Utah plays tomorrow at New Jersey, we may see the starters’ minutes peeled back a bit to make way for fresher legs…just saying.
- Starters: Hayward (57), Harris (55), Millsap (52), Jefferson (51), Miles (50)
- Bench: Burks (21), Favors (19), Tinsley (13), Kanter and Carroll (11)
While I’m typically of the camp that thinks it’s better to try and understand the why behind Utah’s player/coaching decisions rather than be the one who knows how to fix their problems, this minute distribution really confuses me. I’m sure there are explanations aplenty, and they probably make sense. But after expending so much energy at the front end of a vital road trip, grabbing the win tonight in my mind was a must. Now, Utah runs the risk of laying an egg against New Jersey (which would hurt tremendously) and running into a tough team in Boston. Only the coach knows, but the questions could come fast and furious if Utah happens to stumble hard over the next few days.
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