I mean no disrespect to the Utah Jazz but now, officially, the playoffs will begin. The Jazz are a fine team that certainly has a lot of pieces that potentially can become a cohesive unit. They aren’t quite there yet.
After the Spurs disposed of the Jazz for the final time this season, they shouldn’t hang their heads. They were playing, in my opinion at least, the most complete basketball team in the NBA. The Spurs always make the extra pass, the extra cut, the extra screen. They always make the defense pay for missed defensive rotations. For this reason alone, the Spurs don’t waste any possessions.
Maybe Utah will reach that level, the pinnacle of basketball. A synonymous unit that knows each other like the back of their hands.
As of now, however, Utah is simply a basketball team that has one decisive advantage and a flurry of flaws that will prevent them from reaching the next level unless they address these flaws directly. Whether they improve through the draft — their 2012 top seven protected first-round pick might help — free agency or through a trade will be up the front office.
Devin Harris is a quick point guard that can beat many players in a foot race. The problem is that many point guards fit the same mold and, without one discernible skill, Harris is mostly indistinguishable from his peers. Harris has improved his 3-point stroke this year; his 36.2 percentage from behind the arc is a career high.
Derrick Favors, a 6’10″ physical specimen, made an impact in his first career playoff start. Favors was active on the defensive glass and his close out ability impeded the path of the Spurs guards. Favors was credited with two blocks although it felt like much more. As a result, for the first time all series, Utah scored more points in the paint than San Antonio.
Al Jefferson is a talented low post scorer. He’s a little slow on pick-and-rolls, thus our incentive to run him into pick-and-rolls all series. His block totals overvalue his defensive aptitude, surely. Even so, he is 27-years-old and he seems to have a future with the Jazz barring any unforeseen trades in the near future.
Selected with the 47th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Paul Millsap has enjoyed a precipitous rise from his rookie year. In the final game of the series, Millsap grabbed 19 rebounds and blocked three shots. Millsap was pressed into playing the 3 last night and he did so admirably.
I have a soft spot for Gordon Hayward. He’s a smart kid that nearly ripped out the hearts of Duke University when his fateful shot clanked off the back iron in the National Championship game. But, as it turns out, he’s also a pretty good professional. Hayward was mostly non existent after attempting, and converting, on 12 free throws in Game 1. He wasn’t able to slash into the paint with any regularity, leaving him largely ineffective for the remainder of the series.
This core is one that is a little rough around the edges. But with some fine tuning, this rotation is one that can withstand the rigorous Western Conference.
A test like the one they experienced this week is one that some teams need in their development. Their failure leaves them with a sting that will resonate until next year, until they will be ready to learn from their four consecutive defeats at the hands of the superior Spurs.
But, until they translate this learning experience into tangible results, the Utah Jazz will be relegated to facing the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the playoffs. And, if this series is any indication, the Jazz surely don’t want that, do they?
Utah missed all of their 13 3-point attempts … It is their third time this season where they didn’t convert on a 3-pointer … Paul Millsap grabbed 19 boards, marking a season-high … Millsap’s 19 rebounds is the second highest total recorded by a Jazz player this year … Millsap also finished with 10 points on 4-of-17 shooting … Derrick Favors, inserted into the starting lineup in lieu of Josh Howard, recorded a double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds) and he attempted 12 free throws … Devin Harris led the team with a +15 … The Jazz’ bench accounted for 10 points or about 12.3 percent … The Spurs’ bench accounted for 57 points or 65.5 percent of their total points … Manu Ginobili led the team with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting … Tiago Splitter (10 points, two rebounds) led the team with a +21 … Boris Diaw was held scoreless for 20:42 … Tim Duncan scored 11 points, increasing his streak to 14 consecutive games with 10-plus points …