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Emptying the Noggin — The Jazz never blinked

By David Locke, Utah Jazz

Summary:  A tremendous win for the Jazz over the third place Houston Rockets. Utah controlled the game the entire night and held strong down the stretch.

  • The Jazz led the majority of the way — and most of the night — by three or more possessions. The Jazz’s offense dominated the game through Houston’s numerous attempts to adapt their defense. The Jazz scored at will all night with great ball movement, super team work, sharp focus and astute basketball.
  • The Rockets opened the night by doubling the ball on all the pick and rolls and the Jazz moved the ball to the open man to find Rudy at the rim. Then, the Rockets went to a switching defense and the Jazz torched that approach. To open the second half, the Rockets brought a third guy to the pick and roll to eliminate Rudy’s roll while having two guys on the ball, and the Jazz passed out of this to get more and more open looks.
  • Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward are both playing at such a high level that it allows everyone else to function with ease. Hayward is making big shots. Gobert is a beast defensively, but his teammates are trusting him on the roll to the basket and he is making good plays. This makes the Jazz’s offense remarkably good.
  • Gobert is also getting at least one mammoth put back a night.
  • The Jazz were very clear with their defensive plan. They were not going to let the Rockets gets open threes off the action of James Harden. It was the first night all year James Harden didn’t have at least seven assists in a game. The Jazz played the pick and roll with two players. The guard would trail Harden over the pick and force Harden inside the 3-point line. Then, Gobert would cover ground and try to stay with Capela. The defensive numbers weren’t great because the Rockets are that good offensively, but it took the Rockets’ biggest weapon — the 3-point shot — out of the game.
  • The Jazz only allowed two transition points in the second half. The Rockets need transition to get the looks they want.
  • This defensive system works because of Rudy. I am not sure any other team in the NBA can play this way as well as the Jazz do.
  • The Rockets got most of their 3-point looks in transition and/or early in the shot clock.
  • James Harden went 0 for 8 from three.
  • With Hayward on the bench and Hill out for the game, Rodney Hood took over the offense and was terrific during a period in the fourth quarter. His ability to get a shot off is really special. He nailed those mid-range shots and kept the Jazz in control.
  • The most impressive part of this performance was the level of focus for the entire night. The Jazz never blinked. Utah took an eight-point lead at the end of the first quarter and led by six or more for the entire second quarter. The Rockets got it down to three in the third and then the Jazz stretched it back out and led by six or more points for all but one possession of the third. The same thing happened in the fourth quarter: The Rockets trimmed the lead down to four points and then the Jazz took it back to 10.
  • Down the stretch, the Jazz’s offense was clutch. The Rockets had the game within four points with 2:56 left and Gobert made two free throws. Harden got it back to four again on the next possession and then Joe Johnson hit a huge 3-pointer.
  • The Jazz were without George Hill, Shelvin Mack and Derrick Favors. Dante Exum and Raul Neto played a combined 30 minutes, meaning the Jazz went 18 minutes without a traditional point guard. Credit Neto for a very important 21 minutes.
  • By playing no point guard, James Harden had to guard someone. When Dante was on the floor, he just camped out on Dante and didn’t use any energy on defense. When it was Hayward, Ingles and Burks, he had to play defense
  • Boris Diaw and Joe Ingles play the game right. Diaw was +9 in 14 minutes and Ingles was +12 in 27 minutes.
  • Hayward: 23/7/4; Gobert: 23/10; Hood: 19/6/3; Johnson 16/2/2. Solid work across the board. AB was strong off the bench as well with 10 points in 15 minutes.
  • This was a great win for the Jazz tonight and the Clippers lost in Minnesota. The Jazz move within three games of the Rockets and now own the tiebreaker between them.