Kicking off tonight, we saw another starting lineup change from Coach Ty Corbin. Marvin Williams started in the small forward spot, playing alongside Paul Millsap at the power forward spot. With any mix of these starting lineups, it is nice to see two starter-quality bench players ready to jump into the starting lineup, whether it’s Foye and Favors, Hayward and Favors, or even Hayward and Williams. Many teams would be ecstatic having seven starter-quality players on their teams, and Ty is showing the willingness to try to figure out how to juggle them all by changing around the starting lineup.
One reason for the experimentation? The Jazz have been notoriously slow starters for the past couple of seasons. However, noted stats ninja David Locke pointed out before the game that the second quarter has actually been where we’ve seen this team struggle so far this year. Still, after experimenting his way to 2-0, maybe Corbin should have stuck it out a few more games.
The Kings have been playing us tough lately. Last year the Jazz split four games against the Kings, and the two wins were by a total of four points, including a one point game that featured a Devin Harris buzzer-beating airball that landed in Al Jefferson’s hands and ended up looking like an alley-oop, but you could tell by Devin Harris’ post-game reaction that it was a pretty lucky play, and a pretty lucky win.
Tonight turned out to be no different. The Kings easily hung around while shooting over 55% for most of the game and seemingly getting to the rim or wide open jumpers at will. It was coming too easy, and they were taking advantage, which is what pretty much any NBA team will do if you let them get the easy stuff.
Trailing by 12 midway through the fourth quarter, the Jazz finally seemed to click into serious mode and decide to play some defense and execute their offense. It was tough for the Kings to get anything rolling in transition, which was where they had done most of their damage. Free throws down the stretch is what really helped them claw back into the game and take the lead late, as they shot 17 more free throws than the Kings for the game.
Finally clinging to a three point lead, the Jazz couldn’t get out of the building fast enough, and Marcus Thornton made them pay with a three pointer to tie it. Down the stretch, one of the most impressive individual plays of the game came when Jamaal Tinsley completely snuffed an isolation attempt from Aaron Brooks to take the lead, and then fed Hayward for a patented Jazz off-the-screen jumper that looked all too easy and felt like it was going in right when it left his hands.
Escaping with a victory is nice, but if the Jazz are going to play like that again tomorrow it’s going to be another tough one. Sitting at above .500 for the first time since winning the first game of the season, I’m sure Coach Corbin would love to go into Sunday preparing for Monday’s game against Denver with another win in his belt tomorrow.
Ten Things I Liked About Tonight’s Game
1. The Jazz front office and coaches all serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless in the area. It’s good to see those who have been blessed giving back to the community, as the Millers and the Jazz organization often do. Even Gail Miller was out there getting her “lunch lady” on. It’s a great reminder that while we all love this team, and probably dedicate way too much time, effort, and money to supporting them, some things are just bigger than basketball.
2. It’s great to see Gordon Hayward come in off the bench and attack relentlessly on offense and defense. He didn’t have a great shooting night, but I would still say that he has played great coming off the bench. That has to be a tough situation for him, even though he’d never say that if asked. He comes in and makes an impact when he’s called on.
3. At the beginning of the second quarter, Jimmer was running the point and decided to try a stroll in the paint. It quickly became apparent that during the glory days at BYU, Jimmer didn’t play against a lot of teams with a Derrick Favors. He hit the deck and Favors got the block.
4. I’m glad to see Earl Watson back on the floor. I know he’s not an All-Star, and it’s debatable whether or not he’s even an upgrade over Jamaal Tinsley, but this guy plays hard, and is a heck of a teammate. (Unfortunately Mo Williams went down tonight, so Earl’s return to the lineup was well-timed in that regard).
5. Tyreke Evans. I’ve spoken to several Jazz fans who think that Evans would be a good fit in a Jazz jersey. I don’t really see it, but I wanted to see what he could bring the Jazz if he ever did end up here. I think it’s evident that he’s not a priority in Sacramento, and the Jazz could do a lot worse than him in a trade or in free agency. It would be an interesting fit.
6. I love the aggression that Hayward and Favors played with in this game. As Harpring noted, Favors leads the team in free throws attempted. He only had three tonight, but Sacramento’s forwards were getting away with murder down low. Hayward seems to be the only one on this team who can get back in transition and stop a fast break. He had a block on one fast break, stopped another, and challenged one more. He was aggressive on offense as well, even though he started off shooting poorly before finishing a respectable 7-16 from the floor.
7. Early-Oop from Earl Watson to Gordon Hayward! It’s not quite as entertaining as Jeremy Evans, but it looks like we’ll have to settle for that right now. Earl Watson has to be one of the better lob-throwers in the league, right up there in the same class as Andre Miller.
8. Guys, the Mayans were right. Jamaal Tinsley buckled down on defense and stopped a much faster one-on-one player in Aaron Brooks to give the Jazz a chance for the win! If anyone can prove that you had that down as a pregame prediction, I’ll give you a virtual high-five.
9. Gordon Hayward knocking down the clutch jumper for the win! What a great finish. Being down big in the fourth and fighting back to have a chance to win it. I love that Hayward had the confidence to take that shot. That play looked great the whole way, and Gordon knocked it down. Not bad for a guy who’d been struggling up to that point.
10. It’s nice to get a WIN! You don’t like seeing the Jazz play down to their competition, but I think that deep down this team knows that they’re better than the competition that they’re playing against. They just need to play like it for four quarters instead of four minutes.
Three Things That Could Use Some Improvement
1. If Gordon could look slightly less like he just walked off the Twilight movie set, that would be great.
2. The energy that this team seems to lack. There’s no reason this team should struggle with teams like the Raptors, Sixers, or Kings. They have more talent, but tonight there was zero energy on the floor until Hayward checked into the game and deflected a pass that ended up in Marvin Williams’ hands for a breakaway dunk. If Hayward is going to be coming off the bench going forward, the Jazz really need a starter to give them a shot in the arm.
3. Playing down to the competition. This may be completely untrue, but I feel like if the Jazz feel like they just need to show up to beat a team, they struggle mightily to put the game away. “Oh, the 3-8 Kings are coming to town? Great, let’s just get a W and go home.” I’d love to see this team just come out and play high energy and hustle basketball for 48 minutes. Is that too much to ask?
You know the great part about a close game with a fun finish? We get to do the exact same thing tomorrow in Sacramento. I wonder if they’ll take the same plane back…