After the Lakers Game 1 win over the Utah Jazz, I shot an e-mail to Clint Peterson, an avid Jazz fan and a fantastic writer. We had the following exchange about Game 1 and some trends we can look forward to seeing as this series goes along. I’ve written before that the Jazz are one of those teams that I just can’t stand, but they do have some great, knowledgeable fans. Clint now runs High Note Hoops, a new blog dedicated to the Utah Jazz (and, of all blogs, Forum Blue And Gold was one of the first he put on his blog roll). He has also contributed to TrueHoop’s Salt City Hoops and has made appearances on ESPN Daily Dime live Chats. You can follow Clint on twitter here.
FB&G: It’s now a couple hours after Game 1 of this Lakers/Jazz series and the Lakers pulled it out in the fourth. Do you have any early thoughts about the series’ first game?
HNH: It seemed like the Jazz came out a bit tentative, no surprise really as they’ve struggled so much to hang with LA this season. Once they settled in and found that they could stay in the game they really upped the intensity, surprising many with a late lead. I was encouraged with what I saw, particularly in the fourth quarter.
How did you feel about the Lakers’ effort in Game 1 against the Jazz?
FB&G: I was probably just as frustrated with the Lakers efforts as you were encouraged with the effort from Utah, especially with the bench. It’s not a secret, the Lakers bench is awful, but they played well early. They moved the ball and were able to get some easy buckets at the rim. In the fourth quarter, Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown came right out and started taking jumpers instead of working the ball around and getting Bynum some looks in the post. It was almost four minutes into the fourth until ‘Drew got a clean look at the basket, and he looked completely out of rhythm by then. If the Jazz are going to win some games, they have to take advantage of the Lakers’ second unit, and I think the Jazz did a good job of that in the fourth as the Lakers only had one point through the first six minutes of the final period.
The Lakers did play relatively well through the first three quarters, and yet, the Jazz only lost by five. How will Utah use this knowledge going into Game 2?
HNH: You’re right about those second units. Utah must take advantage of it when they have the opportunity. In the second quarter they didn’t. In the fourth, they did. Paul Millsap has a history of pushing around Bynum. How’s that for a height/length advantage? Just goes to show that it can be done.
To start the fourth, with a 73-81 advantage, LA rolled out Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom and Andew Bynum. Utah answered with Ronnie Price, Kyle Korver, CJ Miles, Paul Millsap, Kosta Koufos, and an 8-2 run all on the backs of Price and Millsap, to pull within one.
At this point the Jazz got aggressive and took away the lead with their best defense of the game, only to watch the Lakers bring the double to Deron Williams and pack up the paint (there were 3-second no-calls, Jerry Sloan), while Kobe Bryant went to work on the left wing. Utah learned that CJ Miles is probably not the answer to Bryant down the stretch, as he played too far off of him, giving him room to do what he does.
The Jazz also looked a bit panicked down the stretch, with Williams finding his way into the paint on three straight possessions in the final 2:30, but coming away with points on only one of them. Utah finished 1-8 in the stretch, taking too many jumpers. I think they learned that they need to go early and often. Williams and Miles took 18 of Utah’s 21 free throws, and Boozer took none. Be aggressive early and often rather than late. LA will always have the homecourt advantage in a close one at home.
The Jazz kept a lid on Odom for the most part, for once, but Derek Fisher had a great game. Can he sustain it?
FB&G: I think you hit it right on the nose when you said, “be aggressive early and often.” There are very few ways to beat the Lakers, but taking the proverbial first punch, and relentlessly sustaining that attack is definitely one way to go about it. You saw this kind of strategy used by the Thunder in Game 4 of the Lakers’ previous series and a few other times during the regular season. It is believed that, if the Lakers are hit first, they won’t hit back, and until that they can hit back, this is the kind of mentality the Jazz need to use.
As for Fish, he’s actually been playing well this post season. Of course, he’s been a liability on the defensive end, but I always thought he played Deron Williams relatively well. Williams is going to get his, but Fish makes it harder on Williams to get his than he does for other point guards because of his style of play. In Game 1, Fish had five steals and disrupted a Williams led fast break. These are the kind of things I hope Fisher continues throughout the course of this series. It’s not realistic to ask him to score 10 points every night, but he competes in a way that Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar cannot, and that’s where his value lies at this particular point in his career.
As for Odom, I liked how he played. He was much more actively defensively in Game 1 than he had been during the Thunder series. Odom looked discouraged for the better part of that series because guys like Serge Ibaka took away a lot of the advantages he usually has on guys who he’s usually matched up with. I expect him to become more aggressive as this series continues because he’s going to realize that he has those advantages again. What I liked most from Odom was the way he came in and kept Boozer from having a huge game when Gasol went to the bench. Carlos Boozer had some huge games against Denver, and if he’s able to do better than 18 points on 17 shots AND keep the same productivity from Matthews and Miles, the Jazz can leave with a win. Fisher and Odom are going to be key in this series, but so is Boozer.
He’s traditionally struggled against the Lakers size and length while, as you pointed out, Paul Millsap has not. Can Boozer find a way to get it done? If not, does Jerry Sloan give his minutes to Millsap?
HNH: That’s actually a misconception about Boozer. In truth he’s been the most successful Jazz man against the Lakers. I recently wrote up on the very subject at High Note Hoops here.
As you can see it’s actually Millsap who has historically struggled when facing the lengthy Lake Show, so it was great to see him be able to put that behind him this game and give Utah a solid contribution while keeping Odom from blowing the top off the Jazz like he usually does. Lamar came up with some key plays that hurt, never the less.
That’s not to say that it isn’t a monumental challenge for Boozer to have to play against any of the Lakers’ three big men. It’s difficult to point fingers when there are switches on defense nearly every time down the floor, but hey, that hasn’t stopped anyone from doin’ it anyway. It’s a shame really. I just re-watched the final few minutes of Game 1 several times (man, do I love DVR’s!) and there’s plenty of blame to spread around if that’s what people want to do.
On that topic, in a conversation on Twitter with a Jazz fan who noticed the ball didn’t move around very well at the end, I pointed out that Utah ended up with only 24 assists as a team for the game (I know, ONLY 24?!) and that if they had managed to get the two-to-three more they usually do at that point they would have won. But the fact is that LA played smothering defense in the final couple of minutes and the Jazz didn’t respond with the right moves, opting for jumpers with 10 seconds left on the shot clock in one instance, and Williams finding the Great Wall of Gasol on another.
As for Boozer and Millsap, I was asked something along the same lines about them together on tonight’s ESPN Daily Dime Live. My response was that the pair actually comprise of four of Utah’s five best lineups…when they’re out there together. Boozer is more aggressive and can gamble a bit more when Paul is out there with him, since few teams can afford to guard both at the same time, especially with Millsap’s added range from 15-18 feet out that he developed over the summer. Unfortunately for Utah, LA is one of those teams that CAN guard them both. They have to be at the top of their respective games to beat the Lakers.
So no, Sloan probably won’t go with one or the other, but most of the time with both, especially since Mehmet Okur is out for the long haul.
FB&G: In your article, your Gasol-Boozer head-to-head graphic showed the last 15 regular season games that Gasol and Boozer were matched up against in. However, 10 of those games were not against the Lakers. If you just look at the numbers against the Lakers, you see a significant drop in his point production. While his rebounding numbers are essentially the same, his point totals drop from 21 per game to 14 per game, and as I said earlier, I think Odom coming off of the bench (or starting during games Bynum was down) had a lot to do with that. And for Booz, it’s not just the numbers that gives the consensus the feeling that he’s had problems with the Lakers, but also his propensity to disappear during long stretches, turn the ball over during crucial moments (the Fisher steal with :38 seconds left to play) or not come up with the big plays (Lamar Odom taking a rebound from him for an easy put back on the possession before). I hate to say this to you, but he turns into Karl Malone down the stretch of big games. I have the exact opposite feeling about Millsap. He, along with Matthews, started last night’s comeback. He seemingly comes up with the big rebounds and is a magnet for loose balls. I’ve always liked Millsap for those reasons.
And you’re right, if Utah would have had a few more assists down the stretch, they would have had a much better shot at walking out of Staples with a stolen win. As I pointed out in my Talkhoops.net recap, in the fourth, they held the Lakers scoreless for four minutes as they made their run, then they suddenly stopped doing what was getting them points when Kobe started making shots. Kobe went on a 7-0 run by himself, and from there it was seemingly only a matter of what the final tally would be. Utah only had one more assist after Kobe made his run, and that’s all she wrote for Game 1.
But to answer your question, I think Kobe will be able to get what he wants this series. It’s not necessarily going to be 31 points on 19 shots every night, but I do believe that he’s going to take advantage of this Jazz defensive scheme. Last series he had a very tough time getting the shots that he wanted. Thabo Sefolosha did a great job on him, and when Sefolosha wasn’t enough, guys like Nenad Krstic, Ibaka, Collison, Jeff Green and even Kevin Durant were there to help. I didn’t see anywhere near the same kind of rotations in Game 1 on Kobe that we saw in round 1. There were too many times where Kobe got to the rim untouched, there rarely rotations, and when they were there, they came late or left one of the bigs open. Utah, without Kirilenko, just doesn’t have the right kind of defenders for Kobe. Kobe has no problem shooting over guys his size (Matthews and Miles come to mind) will definitely post up anyone smaller can blow by everyone else. Which brings me to my final question.
What is the timeline for Andrei Kirilenko? And considering that this is the third time that he’s injured the same calf three times, how affective do you think he’ll be?
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. It’s been fun. Hopefully we can do this again in the future. Good luck to your Jazz.
HNH: I have to give one last attempt in defense of Boozer, then I’ll leave it be. It’s not quite as bad as you make it sound. He did average 20.6 points and 13.2 rebounds in last year’s playoff series with LA, including a 20/20 outburst. But I do see where you’re coming from. I just don’t see Millsap being consistent enough to ultimately replace him though.
And that Mailman reference? Oh, OUCH! I bet Karl still hears MJ’s footsteps coming. Or not, since he didn’t the first time around…
When I saw Bryant ignore Gasol on the roll after the pick he set at the 3:22 mark of the 4th, with Utah up 93-91, I practically started salivating, sure Bryant was about to shoot his team out of the game again. I thought, “Here comes 2006 Kobe!” And it was. Bryant went iso on the next two half-court set opportunities down the floor, once kicking it back out, the other cashing in from 16 feet out. It was not to be for Utah, not with the soft defense Miles played on him. Which brings me to your query…
The Jazz desperately need Kirilenko. The timetable for his return is slated for Game 3, as you mentioned, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see him in Game 2 with how close Utah got tonight. They had to be able to sniff it, if not taste victory. If he can, he will play, I have to think. The Jazz will be feeling a sense of urgency, and rightfully so. He’s been out for more than a month now (March 26th) so he’s not going to get all that much better by waiting until it’s too late to make a difference.
I haven’t the foggiest idea what’s up with there being three different strains, in three different places, in three separate incidents on the same calf. I’ve quipped that instead of putting 25 lbs. on his upper body last off-season, he should have instead been mountain biking up the considerable canyons outside of Salt Lake City to beef up those toothpicks that masquerade as legs.
Andrei’s a vet in the Jazz’s system. He’ll be effective at some level no matter what. Certainly Utah hopes that’s 100%, but even if it isn’t an 80% AK-47 is still enough to change shots, even if he doesn’t get a hand on them.
It’s been a pleasure, Phillip! I’m looking forward to a (long) chippy series. Holler anytime.
As if that email exchange wasn’t enough for you guys to read, below are a few links from blogs on Game 1 of the Lakers/Jazz series.
From Silver Screen and Roll: Remember the good old days when the Los Angeles Lakers took their opponents seriously? The team that couldn’t score effectively, and so put all their efforts into making sure the other team couldn’t either? The team that had to play all 48 minutes because a slip in focus would see their opponents make a run the Lakers couldn’t combat?
From Hardwood Paroxysm: The majority of us who didn’t live under a rock or in a womb throughout the 1990s all know where the title of this post comes from. It’s one of the many iconic moments from Seinfeld that people still quote today. People still use it today like it’s the first time such a comedic routine has been uttered. The scene was one of those many Seinfeld moments in which Jerry was able to joke about things that people always wanted to hilariously say. Apparently, having a rental car reservation of some sort used to be like trying to catch lightning in a bottle.
From Sebastian Pruiti at NBA Playbook (Who does a much better video and photo break down of games than I could ever dream of doing): Just last week over at NetsAreScorching, I praised Carlos Boozer for his play so far in the playoffs. Rightfully so, Boozer dominated Kenyon Martin and Nene (when he was playing) in the first round. However, in Game 1 (especially in the 4th quarter) Boozer really struggled with the length. Even worse, it seemed like the Lakers were attacking Boozer, forcing him to make decisions, and he seemed to make the wrong choice each time. With about 1:30 left, the Lakers were up 1 point and the ball was in Kobe’s hands.
From Talkhoops.net: At some point, the Lakers aren’t going to be able to win games just because they have the most talent and the most size. This is a Lakers team that has everything that you could want in a basketball team – everything except the willingness to show the world that they ARE the best basketball team on the floor for 48 minutes. At times during their Game 1 match up against the Utah Jazz, they seemed bored, unfocused and without heart.
From Land O’ Lakers: At the end of the third quarter, the Lakers held an 81-73 advantage over the visiting Utah Jazz in the opening game of their Western Conference Semi-Final matchup at Staples. The first half was, with the exception of a few plays here and there, a demonstration of why the Lakers are so heavily favored. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, two guys for whom the Jazz don’t have a natural answer, combined for 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting over the first 24 minutes. Utah, meanwhile, had trouble generating anything but jumpers and as a result, save six free throws from Deron Williams, couldn’t get to the line, either.
From High Note Hoops: Wash. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Same, uh… Stuff, Different Day. So it seems Utah is stuck on repeat when it comes to facing the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Sunday’s Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals was really no different. Or was it? Sure, Los Angeles struck first in the series, going up 1-0 in the best-of-seven series. And sure, it was Utah’s fifteenth straight defeat at a purple-and-gold Staples.