Jazz Turn In Dominant Defensive Effort To Temper Heat
On a night when the Jazz struggled to find their shooting legs early, connecting on just 3-21 three-pointers in the first half, they turned up their defensive effort and overwhelmed a flawed Miami Heat roster.
The Jazz have now won 18 of their last 19 games, and continue to hold the league’s best record at 22-5.
Jazz Big Run Ends The Game
This could be copied and pasted from just about every game over the last month, but the Jazz had a big run to end the second quarter and start the third quarter to turn a close game into a blowout.
The team’s start to the third quarter was particularly impressive. Mitchell did what superstars are supposed to do and recognized that there was an opportunity to jump on the Heat out of the halftime gate, and he did exactly that.
Mitchell scored eight points on the Jazz first five possessions to push a five-point halftime lead to a 13 point lead with just under 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
Then, with Miami focused on slowing Mitchell, the rest of the Jazz offense got going. The Jazz pushed the 55-42 lead to 63-42 thanks to back to back threes from Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles, and a runout dunk from Royce O’Neale.
But it wasn’t the Jazz scoring that was most impressive, as 15 points in four and half minutes in the NBA is no longer anything to write home about. Instead, it was the team’s defense that made the difference.
Though Miami really struggled to see the ball go in the basket all night, they didn’t score for the first 6:09 of the third quarter. When they did score, it was on a Tyler Herro 20 foot two-point shot which the Jazz will gladly surrender on every defensive possession.
In the first three and a half minutes of the third quarter, the closest shot the Heat took to the rim was a 12-foot jumper from Jimmy Butler. Miami didn’t get their first shot at the rim until the 5:15 mark of the quarter.
Gobert’s rim protection is elite and was again tonight, but Royce O’Neale deserves credit for his continued play on the perimeter. Jimmy Butler had a dominant first quarter scoring six points, grabbing four rebounds, and handing out three assists.
He finished with 15 points, eight rebounds, and five assists over the full 48 minutes of the game.
O’Neale defended Giannis Antetokounmpo last night, and held him to a near standstill with just two points in the first half against Milwaukee, and had another incredible performance against Butler tonight.
“Royce defensively takes the toughest matchup every night, and that takes a toll on you,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s battling through fatigue because he guarded Giannis last night, and guards Jimmy Butler tonight.”
O’Neale finished the game with an impressively versatile eight points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals, and three blocks.
Considering the Jazz were on the second night of a back to back, while Miami had the day off, to find the energy to play that type of defense on the perimeter is a sign that this Jazz team’s belief in itself isn’t based simply on seeing shots going in.
The Jazz dominated a game when they were tired, and that’s hard to do.
Miami Is Missing A Piece, Can They Wait To Grow?
The Miami Heat are one of the stranger cases this season after their run to the Finals last season in the Orlando bubble.
Even after winning their last four games heading into tonight, they were just 11-14 on the season and sitting on the outside of the Eastern Conference Playoffs looking.
At this point, Miami may need to look at trying to acquire one of the league’s available All-Stars if they want to stay in contention in the east.
Both Houston Rockets guard Victor Oladpio and Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal are available and would be stellar additions to any roster, but particularly in Miami.
While the Jazz are an elite defensive team, Miami was particularly impotent attacking the Jazz off the dribble throughout the second half, and both Beal and Oladipo offer that skill. Butler proved he can carry a team to the Finals, but he was buoyed by stellar play from Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, both of whom have struggled to find the level they had last year in the playoffs.
Both players still have enormous upside, as Adebayo made his first All-Star game last season, and Herro looked like a legitimate third option on a high-level playoff team. However, to acquire either Oladipo or Beal, one of those two young stars would likely have to be included.
The Heat probably shouldn’t have made the Finals last season, and might not have in a traditional season had they been forced to play postseason road games in Milwaukee and Boston.
Instead, in the comfort of their own backyard in Orlando, they made an improbably run to the Finals and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
That run set unrealistic expectations on the roster this season, especially against an Eastern Conference grouping that got stronger with the addition of Kevin Durant and James Harden.
Pat Riley might be the best executive in NBA history and has seemed to always have the magic touch when putting together championship quality rosters. Right now, that’s not what Miami is playing with, I’ll be curious to see how he fixes it.