Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 139-119 win over the Indiana Pacers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. The most unwatched jazz game in a long time
Honestly, it was perfect timing for the most unwatchable game in jazz.
With the eyes of the state completely on the Utes’ victory in the Pac-12 championship game, the Jazz and Pacers flew under the radar and played one of the slowest NBA games you’ll ever see.
First, there were 63 fouls in the game: 35 for the Pacers, 28 for the Jazz. That’s more than we’ve seen in an NBA game since the 2020 Bubble, and it’s more than we’ve seen in a Jazz game since Dec. 5, 2015 — when the Jazz also beat the Pacers at Vivint Arena. At least that game went to overtime, explaining some of the extra fouls.
“It was a weird, weird game,” Walker Kessler said. “I feel like the third quarter was 45 minutes. It was definitely interesting.”
It would be one thing if the refereeing was consistent and just militantly attached to the rules – I didn’t think that was the case. After the 3rd quarter had 17 fouls, there were some contact plays that I believed were fourth-quarter fouls that were disqualified. Well.
One thing that is clearly an education point this season is travel: the league is just asking for a lot of travel right now. In this game, there were seven called. Last year, 1.3 trips were called for per game. Interestingly, unlike most Points of Education highlights, the travel whistles didn’t really start until November:
Here, I think these are indeed moves, but the referees are currently keeping an eagle eye on the pivot legs. Honestly, right now, it feels more like how collegiate officials call their games. This, of course, will likely return to normal as we progress through the season.
Even beyond the trips, there were just a lot of turnovers: The Jazz committed 26 (!) and the Pacers committed 19.
And speaking of other stoppages, we had a flagrant foul review, two clock breakdowns, two timeouts for blood on players or the floor, and even an inadvertent whistle or two. Good times.
Either way, there’s no doubt: the record number of whistles will be what this game is remembered for.
2. Absolutely cooked Jazz offense
And yet, even in that context, the Jazz were absolutely cooking. It’s not that the Jazz came out on the fastbreak – they actually lost fastbreak points 24 to 8 to the Pacers. They were just killing Indiana in the middle of the court on their way to 139 points.
First, we should note that Rick Carlisle did a good job before the game explaining why he was most concerned about Utah’s offense:
“Utah does some very unique things with their off-ball actions. And it’s interesting because they’re doing it with some guys who are almost seven feet tall like Olynyk and Markkanen and who are extremely, extremely tall, but extremely skilled. … We’ve had a few days to prepare for these guys, and it’s going to be tough.”
Carlisle is right. How many teams have two seven-footers that you can run an off-ball screen on – and then have one of those seven-footers step back into the paint like this?
However, I don’t think that really led to the Jazz’s offensive success for the most part. Looking at the film, I think the Pacers repeatedly struggled to make an impact with their help guards…and then the Jazz players did a really good job of finding the open man where the help was coming from.
Like here, Jalen Smith probably doesn’t need to jump here – it’ll be a tough shot for a Talen Horton-Tucker after the rotation. But he does and is able to lay the ball off to Jarred Vanderbilt.
Or here’s another THT aid. Should Bennedict Matthurin let Lauri Markkanen drop these three? I do not think so.
I give the Jazz players significant credit for making the right read as many times as they did tonight – you don’t expect that from a young team, but Horton-Tucker (9 assists) and Collin Sexton (5 assists) were great.
3. The defensive combination of Walker Kessler and Lauri Markkanen
As you know, the Jazz haven’t had a great defense this year. They allow 113.4 points per 100 possessions – too many.
However, that drops to 106.3 when Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler share the floor. It’s not a crazy number, but even using the eye test, I can see them working together extremely well.
Here is an example. The Jazz have Markkanen guard Buddy Hield — maybe because Markkanen’s length might bother the skilled shooter? (It certainly worked: Hield went just 2-8 in tonight’s game, while he typically averages 14 shots per contest). And Markkanen follows Hield around a screen, doesn’t go down to make sure he doesn’t have room to shoot.
So Hield gets the ball and goes to an open paint. And look who’s there: Blocker Kessler!
But there’s one more wrinkle: Now someone has to get the rebound. Who’s big enough to make sure Myles Turner doesn’t get the board? Well, Markkanen is and beats him to the punch.
Let’s play again! This time, Hield is trying to get through the same situation – except Markkanen is right there to intercept the pass.
Because the Jazz’s other players aren’t involved in the play, they can guard their 3-point shooters elsewhere on the court. Great, great, great work on the two-man defensive game.
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