EMPTYING THE NOGGIN – Jazz win 50th with veteran leadership

Summary: The Jazz win their 50th game of the regular season with a surprising 105-99 victory over the Warriors, despite playing without Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors.

  • The first quarter of basketball was high scoring and exciting. That gave way to a more Jazz-paced game and with both teams’ best players on the bench for the closing quarter (other than Rudy), the Jazz were able to outlast the Warriors.
  • Through three quarters, the Jazz and Warriors were tied. Curry had played 30 minutes and Durant had 28. To this point, both teams had played most of their available guys. The Warriors were resting Klay Thompson and the Jazz were without three primary players, yet the Jazz impressively had played to a draw through three quarters. The Warriors had made surges and the Jazz had found a way to answer back and stay in the game.
  • George Hill returned to the lineup and looked fresh. He had nice bounce in his jumper and hit on 7 of 9 from the field and 5 of 7 from 3 for 20 points in 19 minutes.
  • Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson showed how important they are going to be for this team in the playoffs. Diaw was terrific tonight. He just made the right play all the time, not just the obvious things: The defensive slides, the ball movement, the correct spacing. It felt as though he played a very smart game tonight. Joe Johnson was the offensive go-to guy late in the game. He scored 13 points in the fourth quarter on 5 of 7 shooting. He has been great in the clutch all season.
  • The Warriors played Durant four minutes of the fourth and didn’t play Curry and Green at all in the final quarter.
  • Rudy Gobert had another fabulous game and has become an elite offensive player. He is averaging over 15 points a game, he is shooting over 70% and he is a significant enough force that teams are having to game plan for his offensive prowess around the rim. The uneducated comment is that all he does is dunk. If teams could get a dunk on every possession, no one would shoot a 3. They would take a shot at the rim every possession. Gobert is able to get you those possessions throughout the game. Monday, he was 7 of 12 for 17 points — 12 shots and 17 points.
  • The Warriors’ off-ball action is awesome. They move and cut and never stop. They run these little ring-around-the-rosy pick actions where the player just runs a circle around the pick until they are free. They are nearly impossible to guard. It takes complete focus and the minute you blink, they will take advantage.
  • Joel Bolomboy got 15 minutes of run tonight and was really solid.
  • Dante had a bad shooting night: 1 for 7 from 3 and 7 of 15 from the field. The Warriors’ defensive scheme was giving Exum and Mack shots all night. Mack took the most shots with 15 and Exum with 14. They combined to hit back-to-back 3s in the key stretch of the game that pushed the Jazz to a lead they would never relinquish. The two of them were a combined 2 of 12 from 3.
  • 50 wins makes the Jazz the 5th team in NBA history to go from 20s to 30s to 40s to 50 wins in a four-season stretch.
  • Steve Kerr had very nice comments about Quin Snyder before the game: “They’ve done an amazing job with all the injuries. I’ve known Quin for a long time and it doesn’t surprise me. He’s rock solid. He’s a really good coach. Watching them on tape they are innovative, they play together and they defend. They are just a smart, tough basketball team. Quin deserves a lot of credit for that and he’ll probably get some votes for Coach of the Year, which he deserves. I’m really happy for him and happy for their franchise. They have done a really good job over the last few years in terms of rebuilding and putting together a good roster and good coaching staff. I guess not surprising given the success that the franchise has had over the long haul.”

EMPTYING THE NOGGIN – Lillard’s career night overwhelms the Jazz

Summary: Damian Lillard scores a Blazers franchise record 59 points and torches the Jazz on the way to a 101-86 win over the Utah.

  • There was a really cool moment after the game when Damian Lillard was offered the game ball and declined, instead saying that it should go to Joe Johnson who scored his 20,000th point tonight. Really classy move from a great guy in the NBA.
  • In the Jazz’s two wins in SLC against the Blazers, Utah controlled Damian Lillard. Tonight, Lillard got going early and he was unstoppable. He had 26 points in the first quarter and then after a scoreless second quarter, he ignited again and scored 21 in the third before finishing with 59 points.
  • Lillard went 18 of 34 from the floor, 9 of 14 from 3, and 14 of 16 from the line.
  • Lillard was the only Blazer to go to the line. His missed free throws at the end of the game were the first misses against the Jazz in two games.
  • The Jazz had a good strategy against Lillard in the last matchup where they picked him up high enough that they were able to get under the pick and still stay in front of him. Tonight, they couldn’t do that.
  • Lillard had three free throws to get to 60 but made just 1 of 3.
  • The Jazz battled and got the game within four points a few times, but were never able to maintain its surge.
  • The Blazers had a brutal stretch in the second quarter where they shot 4 of 18 and the Jazz were unable to take advantage in that stretch. That was the stretch of the game where the Jazz missed the opportunity to get back in the game.
  • The game had three minutes without a field goal on both ends. Dante had back-to-back brutal turnovers and Ingles and Gobert missed shots. Exum hit a free throw to break the drought and then Hayward scored before Exum had another turnover, then Exum missed a three. Over 6:30, the Blazers scored two points and the Jazz only cut into the lead by four.
  • Portland did a nice job of cutting off the Gobert roll to the basket. The Jazz will need to be able to take advantage of this in the playoffs.
  • Raul Neto played the best point guard minutes by far, but got a severely sprained ankle. The Jazz were +14 in Neto’s 13 minutes and -29 when he was off the floor.
  • The Jazz need to be good when Gobert is off the floor and tonight, they were -12 in the 14 minutes he sat.
  • Joe Johnson went over 20,000 career points.
  • Rudy Gobert became the first Jazz player and the 12th in NBA history to have 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 200 blocks in a single season.
  • CJ McCollum was 4 of 20.
  • The Blazers switched everything and Noah Vonleh ended up guarding out on the floor on the Jazz’s ball handlers. Utah didn’t take advantage of that matchup the same way they were able to in SLC.
  • This was a special night for one of the good guys in the league, but with the Clippers win tonight the Jazz are now in 5th in the West and will have to win out and bank on the Clippers losing one of their two final home games if the Jazz plan to get home court advantage.

EMPTYING THE NOGGIN – Another marker on Hayward’s road to stardom

Summary: In a high-scoring, offensively-dominated game, the Jazz outlasted the Timberwolves behind a career-high 39 points from Gordon Hayward, 14 of which came in the 4th quarter.

  • The Utah Jazz are your Northwest Division champs for the ‘16-‘17 NBA season.
  • For seven years, Jazz fans have had a chance to watch Gordon Hayward grow from a scrawny rookie out of Butler, to a stunned kid who took a wet willy from Delonte West, into a bona fide All-Star. Along this road, there have been markers: The rookie year game in Minnesota when Sloan left Hayward in to finish the game en route to 24 points; In 2014 when he dueled with Kevin Durant on his way to 17 4th quarter points and 37 against Oklahoma City; The November battle to start the next season with Carmelo Anthony when he stood toe-to-toe and dropped 33 points; January of 2016 when he put 18 up in the 3rd quarter against Dwayne Wade and Miami. Tonight is another marker — 14 in the 4th quarter on his way to a new career high, 39 points.
  • The beauty of Hayward’s game is he never highjacks possessions from his team. Everything he does is inside the scheme and the framework of the offense. It never just becomes his show. He plays the game correctly. If his teammates are open and the right play is to make the pass, then he will make the pass. It happened tonight when he bypassed a look to get one to Joe Johnson, and started the Joe Johnson ignition in the 3rd quarter.
  • Joe Johnson was vital to this game. He hit his first eight shots. When Joe Johnson has had two days’ rest or more this season, he has been terrific. This bodes well for the playoffs. When he has two days’ rest this season, he is 77 of 145 for 53% FG and is 27 of 54 from 3 ( 50%).
  • The Timberwolves were 28 of 28 from the free throw line.
  • Joe Ingles has taken a huge amount of the ball handling duties recently. He had a career high eight assist tonight. His versatility is awesome. At one point this year, he was the defensive stopper. Then he was a power forward. Now he is basically a point guard at times. He had another solid night from 3, hitting on 2 of 3 and is now 14 of his last 23 from 3.
  • The Jazz’s offense was on fire tonight with an EFG% 69.3. This was not a fast-paced game. It was 91 possessions. The Wolves are the worst defensive team in the NBA in the last 15 games and it showed.
  • Ricky Rubio was terrific for Minnesota. If they are going to trade him to free up Kris Dunn, put me in line with my hand up. I was surprised to see him as -15.
  • Andrew Wiggins finished the night 8 of 21. His mid-range jumper off the bounce is not good.
  • Derrick Favors returned and as Quin Snyder said, the Jazz don’t win this game without Favors. He had four dunks, which is a great sign. He rolled to the basket on a great pick and roll. He is really important to the Jazz success versus the Clippers.
  • Dante had a brutal offensive stretch in the first half and came back in the second half with exceptional defense and hit two 3-point shots. This shows a level of toughness that is a good sign. He has shown consistent signs since the All-Star break.
  • Minnesota has offensive fire power. When they go 28 of 28 from the line and Rubio hits his shots they are the real deal. Plus, they have the stretch-5 that is so difficult for the Jazz to deal with. This had a bad script, and the Jazz survived it.
  • The Jazz will play the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.

EMPTYING THE NOGGIN – Tribute to a resilient remarkable run by the Jazz

Summary: Down three starters, the Jazz won their seventh straight at Vivint Smart Home Arena and defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 106-87, holding Damian Lillard to 5 of 20 shooting.

  • What the Jazz are doing this season is truly remarkable. The injuries this team has faced should have crippled their season. It has crippled teams year in and year out, and somehow it hasn’t crippled this team. It is incredible. The Jazz are 11-2 when they have their regular starters. If they are missing one starter, they are 21-11. If they are missing two starters, their record is 14-15 and if they are missing more than three starters — as they were tonight — they are 2-3. Digest that a little more. When they are only missing one starter, this team is 32-13. That is a 60-win team. When they are missing two starters, they are still a .500 team and a possible 8-seed team.
  • This is a tribute to the depth of the team and to the veterans who have stayed professional and contribute whenever called upon. Shelvin Mack and Jeff Withey are winning games for this team.
  • This is a tribute to the depth that Dennis Lindsey built into this roster.
  • This is a tribute to Quin Snyder and his staff for the relentless work and preparation. Their ability to use these players to their maximum potential is remarkable.
  • This is a tribute to Joe Ingles who has so far exceeded what the expectations of his game were this season. He basically played point guard tonight. He has been a defensive stopper, he has played everything from 1 to 4 and he leads the NBA in 3-point shooting.
  • This is a tribute to Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward who have been better than any of us realize. Carrying this team night in and night out is an unbearable burden and they have answered the bell virtually every night.
  • Tonight, the Jazz jumped out early and lead 9-0, not allowing a Portland FG until the 7:25 mark of the first quarter. The Jazz led by seven points at the end of the first quarter, 24-17, then by six points at the half, holding the Blazers to 41 first half points. In the third quarter, the Blazers briefly took the lead, but the Jazz got rolling and took an 11-point lead into the fourth. Joe Johnson hit four straight 3s and the Jazz stretched the lead to 20.
  • Utah hit the 3 ball in the second half. They were 3 of 8 in the first half and 10 of 15 in the second half, which was very similar to the first meeting in Utah.
  • Dante Exum played one of the best games I have seen from him. Defensively, he gave Lillard a hard time and executed the game plan terrifically. Lillard finished 5 of 20, and even when he made shots, they were contested. Exum didn’t reach and didn’t get in foul trouble. Offensively, he played off the ball for most of the night and had a nice explosiveness to the rim. He got undercut in the third quarter and left with an injured hip.
  • If I could come up with one play that exemplified Rudy, it happened tonight. Rudy blocked a Lillard drive to the basket, as only he could. Then, when the Jazz went in transition, Ingles stepped back into a wide open 3-pointer. Instead of watching from the other side, Gobert sprinted the floor and when Ingles’ shot bounced off the rim, Rudy was there and dunked it home for two. That is incredible commitment to the game and 90% of all centers in the NBA block the shot and rest waiting for the play to come back to him.
  • Hayward had 30 and dominated the game with mid-range jumpers and then got hot in the third, which spurred the Jazz to an 11-point lead.
  • Boris had a season-high eight rebounds in addition to five assists.
  • I mentioned it earlier: Jeff Withey and Shelvin Mack are winning games for the Jazz. Withey was 5 for 5 in 12 minutes and Mack had 12 points and 5 assists in 26 invaluable minutes with Hill, Neto and Exum all hurt.
  • I hope you are enjoying this run. This team is doing amazing things.