Donovan Mitchell throws down a fourth quarter slam worthy of the dunk champion in the Jazz’s 95 to 78 win in Memphis, Utah’s 17th victory in 19 games. (The Canadian Press)
Story of the Game
In perhaps the most predictable result of the NBA season, the Utah Jazz, winners of 17 of their last 19 games, defeated the Memphis Grizzlies, losers of 15 straight, 95 to 78, holding the Grizzlies to a season-low score on their home court.
Since 2011, games between these two teams have resulted in the lowest combined point total of any two teams in the league. So the final score was no surprise.
It really took only one strong quarter for the Jazz to establish a lead Memphis simply lacked the firepower to overcome, and that proved to be the second quarter. In the period Utah made five of 11 threes, two each by Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles, while holding Memphis to 30-percent shooting without a single triple. By quarter’s end, Utah held a 12-point lead that would never be threatened.
The Grizzlies simply lacked the scoring punch to challenge Utah’s defense, which held the home team to 55 points on 35-percent shooting over the final three quarters. Marc Gasol’s (9 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks) strange absence from the Memphis offense played a major role in this futility. The Grizzlies’s best player – honestly, the only player on their roster who measures up as a quality NBA starter in the absence of the injured Mike Conley – tied Kobi Simmons (???) for the fewest shots among the home team’s starters. Perhaps that can be attributed to the impact of Rudy Gobert (4 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 2 blocks).
The all-league centers largely cancelled each other out, and pitting their supporting casts against each other was an easy win for Utah – just not an aesthetic one.
Stars of the Game
Superstar: Jae Crowder (22 points, 3 assists, 1 rebound, 1 steal, 1 block, 6 threes)
It makes sense that they guy with the body of an outside linebacker was Utah’s most comfortable player against the Grizzlies snatch and smack defense. When many of his teammates were playing off balance and rushing shots, clearly discomforted by the physical play, Crowder calmly took open three after open three, nailing six for his season high scoring mark, including his games in Cleveland. More, his threes came at key moments, particularly in the first half when Utah built its lead and with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter to staunch Memphis’s final chance to make an unlikely run at a win.
Secondary Stars: Joe Ingles (16 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 4 threes) and Ricky Rubio (15 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 9 free throws)
Ingles and Rubio were instrumental in the only two areas Utah’s offense really thrived: from the three point line (Ingles four of six shooting) and at the free throw line (Rubio’s nine of 11). Rubio shot more free throws than the rest of the team combined, and along with Ingles marksmanship from three was enough support for Crowder for the Jazz to earn an easy if ugly win.
Secret Star: Royce O’Neale (6 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block)
O’Neale’s jumper has left him as he bricked all three of his long-range attempts on the night. But even so, his all-around game makes him a worthwhile contributor even when his shot isn’t falling, as illustrated by the Jazz outscoring the Grizzlies by 12 with the rookie on the court, matching the team’s plus-minus bench high posted by Crowder.
Stats of the Game
24 – Grizzlies points in the paint to Utah’s 38.
20 – Jazz fast break points, which was key in this matchup where points are notoriously difficult to find.
26 – Jazz assists. The team is now 13 and one in games where they dish that many.
3 – Jazz players who accounted for all 13 made three pointers tonight: Crowder (6), Ingles (4), and Donovan Mitchell (3).
52 – Memphis’s points per 100 possessions in the 14-plus minutes O’Neale played in the second half.
- This Grizziles team should be radio only. Televising these games is risking someone going blind at the grotesquery.
- For the second time this season, Donovan Mitchell (12 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, 3 threes) struggled offensively against the Grizzlies, scoring only 12 points on 15 shots. While Memphis isn’t the grit and grind unit of the past, against the slow-tempo Jazz they play physically against perimeter players, denying the ball on the wings and bumping up against offensive players out beyond the three point line. This bothered Mitchell on the perimeter, and when he drove Marc Gasol was always in position to either block or heavily contest the shot, typically while bumping Mitchell out of the air in the process. As amazing as Mitchell has been this season, the Grizzlies’s ability to defend him may portend some growing pains should the Jazz advance to the playoffs, where play is much more physical than the regular season.
- Gobert and Favors are each talented, but they both could learn something about toughness from Crowder, specifically, how to meet force with force. Each of the Jazz bigs is prone to accept contact and move with it, be it when taking a shot or fighting for a rebound. They then complain to the referees when no foul is called. Favors especially has the strength to resist such play. If they get fouls by bodying away players too roughly, so be it. Better that than repeatedly being pushed off balance in plays they are in position to make.
- Mitchell’s five turnovers certainly aren’t ideal, but they’re the price of asking a rookie to make plays for teammates. In the past two games, Mitchell has had a combined 12 assists but also 11 turnovers.
At the time this is published, New Orleans 10-game winning streak has ended but Denver used a late storm to defeat the Lakers while Portland and the Clippers have sizable leads in their respective games at around halftime. Utah keeps winning games, but their rivals for the final six playoff spots out West are pretty much keeping pace. This Sunday’s matinee against the Pelicans, who may get the injured MVP candidate Anthony Davis back that game, will be huge in determining the Jazz’s playoff fate.
Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.
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