Game Recap: Jazz 95, 76ers 91
The 76ers (2-31) outplayed the Utah Jazz (13-16) between the second and fourth quarters of Monday’s hard-fought clash at Vivint.SmartHome Arena. In the end, a tough first quarter and substantial free-throw differential were too much to erase. Gordon Hayward emerged as the hero for Utah, sinking a clutch three-point shot with 33 seconds to go. The bucket gave the Jazz a one-point advantage, and positioned them for their eventual 95-91 triumph.
Facing a 19-point hole in the opening four minutes of the third quarter, the Sixers were searching for a spark. They received one in the form of Richaun Holmes, who combined with Ish Smith to ignite a 33-10 surge that propelled the Sixers to an 82-78 advantage sixty seconds into the fourth frame. The duo teamed up to generate the first 19 points of that run. Holmes ended the evening with a career-best 18 points, while Smith set a season-high with 22 points. Smith added 11 assist to post his sixth double-double of the campaign. Nerlens Noel matched his highest scoring effort of the season with 18 points, and also swatted five shots, his biggest block total of the year.
Hayward finished with a game-high 24 points, but they didn’t come easily. Throughout the night, the Sixers presented him with a determined defensive crowd. The former Butler star converted only six of his 21 field goal attempts; however, he did drain 10 of 11 free throws. Foul shots proved to be a significant storyline in the contest, as the Jazz took 17 additional attempts from the stripe than the Sixers, outscoring the Sixers by 18 points from the line.
The Sixers were 10 points better than Utah over the final three quarters, but were forced to play catch-up throughout the tilt after being outscored 37-23 in the first period. With the victory, Utah extended its home winning streak over the Sixers to 11 straight games.
Ish Smith, in just his second appearance for the Sixers since being reacquired via trade on December 24th, left fingerprints all over Monday’s final box score, as he did in his season debut on Saturday in Phoenix. With 1:22 remaining in the fourth quarter, the sixth-year point guard hit a three-pointer from the top of the arc that evened the score at 89 apiece. After the Sixers made an essential stop on Utah’s ensuing possession, Smith zoomed into the frontcourt, only to be outpaced by Nerlens Noel, who polished off the second Smith-to-Noel alley-oop of the game. The slam gave the Sixers their final lead.
Brett Brown Said - On his take-aways from the Sixers’ 95-91 setback to the Utah Jazz:
“So many positives. You look at what Nerlens [Noel] did. You look at what Richaun Holmes did. You look at Ish [Smith’s] third period. All over the place it was a great team effort. I think the carryover from the Phoenix game is evident that something is brewing here.”
Notes and Quotes:
Prior to Monday’s bout with Utah, Brett Brown, after confirming that the Sixers would again be without Jahlil Okafor, was asked what he was looking for in terms of several members of the roster needing to “step up.” He responded, “Just that. That’s what team basketball is. Somebody goes down, somebody steps up.”
Richaun Holmes seemed to take that directive to heart in the third quarter, when he proved to be one of the driving forces behind a critical Sixers’ run. With the Sixers down 68-49, the power forward stroked one of two free throws, which began a stretch in which he deposited seven straight points for the Sixers. In all, Holmes produced 10 of his career-high 18 points in the third quarter. He knocked down eight of his 11 field goal attempts overall, and set a new personal-best with three blocked shots as well.
Holmes, who spent the past three years at Bowling Green State University, indeed delivered a “step up” performance, especially in the absence of Okafor, and with fellow forward Carl Landry limited to eight minutes of action. Jerami Grant, another member of the Sixers’ frontcourt, was saddled with five personal fouls, and could only log 11 minutes.
For a second consecutive game, Jahlil Okafor was forced to sit out due to soreness in his right knee. The third overall pick in this past June’s NBA Draft didn’t miss a single one of Duke’s 38 contests a year ago, when the Blue Devils won the NCAA Championship.
Brett Brown said before Monday’s match-up with Utah that it hasn’t been easy on Okafor to miss the past two outings, but believes the experience could ultimately benefit the big man.
“What I challenge him with is, it’s a great opportunity - if you position it well - to look at the game through a different lense, to look at practice through a different lense,” explained Brown. “You have a different vision line from a sideline, and you see things differently when the pace of the game is on your doorstep. You can see it with more poise and clarity, and I challenge him to find things, anything to improve. Look at a player. Look at how somebody warms up. Look at how refs call the play. Look at how they rotate on defense and pick-and-rolls. Look at something, and come back a little bit smarter, and a little bit better.”
Brown continued, “Most definitely not playing is unfamiliar to him. We need him. It’s a good chance for him to see my adamance that we need to play with speed. I think that’s the sport. That’s the challenge for Jahlil is to get his body to be an A-plus, and always have that motor, and combine that gift that he has to go post and score. Those things stand out on ways that I can help steer him to pay attention clearer and better so that he can come back a little more improved.”
Brown expressed optimism that Okafor would be cleared to play on Wednesday, when the Sixers are in Sacramento to face the Kings.
In the rafters above one of the baselines at Vivint.SmartHome Arena, there hangs a set of 10 banners, each representing a person of distinction who has contributed to the Utah Jazz throughout their 42-year history. Most of the flags are for retired jersey numbers, such as the number “32” for Karl Malone, and the number “12” for John Stockton. One banner, however, displays a very big number printed on it. In fact, the number in question, “1,223,” is the third-largest of its kind on the planet. It represents the number of NBA victories that Jerry Sloan earned over the course of his sint as Utah’s head coach, a run that lasted 23 years. Brett Brown was an admirer of Sloan’s career from afar, and, in particular, from San Antonio’s bench.
“In my earlier days, the Utah model, the Coach Sloan model, was something that we just had great respect for,” said Brown, referring to his stint as an assistant under Gregg Popovich. “We referenced it all the time in early Spurs life about just how thing it was, how private, how everything stayed in house, their business wasn’t aired outside. They were good people, they were solid people. They just ran a clean, solid program. And so in the earlier days, long before San Antonio got their present reputation, this was the model we followed all the time.”
Brown credited Sloan for setting an example that Brown continues to follow while leading the Sixers.
“It’s just one of those old-school, hard-nosed coaches that you just respect,” Brown said. “You listen to his Hall of Fame speech. I’ve listened to a lot of them, and he’s just, ‘It is what it is.’ I remember studying him, and it’s applicable to me now, because we’re rebuilding a growing program. He’d fight [games] out, he’d burn fouls, he’d trap, I don’t care if he’s down 18, he’d see it through, and then he’d walk off the court. And I do it too, because of him. I think of him in that situation and how I respected it. Never once rolled over.”
Sloan ran Utah’s sideline from 1988 through 2011. He was an assistant for the Jazz for four seasons before taking over as head coach.
The Sixers head to California for a set of three consecutive games in the Golden State. Up first, the Sacramento Kings (12-19), one of the NBA’s more intriguing and curious teams, if only due to the amount of rumors and rumblings that have surrounded the organization as of late. In recent months, there have been multiple and various reports about George Karl having tenuous standing within the franchise. Hired during the 2015 All-Star Game break, the sixth-all-time-winningest head coach in league history hasn’t even been with the team for a full calendar year. Much of the uncertainty concerning his future has stemmed from his relationship with All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins. At times, the two have seemed to butt heads. In other instances, Cousins has pledged his support for Karl. Right now, with Sacramento playing relatively better basketball, they appear to be coexisting. The Kings have won four of their past eight contests, and continue to try and climb out of the hole they dug for themselves at the outset of the year, when they opened 1-7. Sacramento was one of the busiest clubs this off-season, making seven signings, including point guard Rajon Rondo.