UTAH JAZZ

Four Takeaways From The Jazz And Grizzlies So Far

May 28, 2021, 2:26 PM
Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant drives against Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (Photo by Alex Go...
Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant drives against Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies are tied at one game apiece after two games of their first-round playoff series.

The Grizzlies stole game one, building a big lead, and surviving a Jazz rally in the final quarter to escape with a 112-109 victory.

In game two, the Jazz evened the series and flipped the script after they allowed the Grizzlies to erase a big halftime deficit, before emerging with a 141-129 victory.

With the first two games of the series behind them, here are four takeaways from the first week of the Jazz playoff run.

Home Court Advantage?

If there was one ace up the sleeve of the Jazz, it was that they had proven to be the best home team in the NBA by a significant margin this season.

The Jazz were the league’s most dominant, and most balanced team during the regular season, finishing the year as the only team to rank in the top-four in both offensive and defense rating while owning the best Net Rating in the NBA at +9.0 points per 100 possessions.

Those numbers grew at home as the Jazz owned the NBA’s second-best offense and best defense with a Net Rating of +12.9 while playing in Utah.

However, the Jazz quickly surrendered home-court advantage in the opening game of the playoffs after the Grizzlies 112-109 victory. Now, they’ll have to prove they can win in a hostile environment on the road if they want to survive the first round of the postseason.

Now, there are a handful of reasons why the Jazz may have lost the game despite playing in front of their home crowd.

First, the team was without their leading scorer Donovan Mitchell who was a late scratch from the opener under bizarre circumstances.

Second, the team may have been a bit rusty, having had a full week off while the Grizzlies had played two high-leverage games in preparation for the game one. The rust resulted in 14 turnovers, including 12 steals by the Grizzlies leading to easy transition baskets.

Third, the Jazz shot bizarrely poorly in their opener, connecting on just 12-47 of their three-point attempts, their second-worst shooting performance of the season.

All three of those things were contributing factors to the Jazz losing game one, though it’s surprising that playing at home wasn’t a bigger factor in the loss. Memphis was not intimidated by the 13,000 fans at Vivint Arena, and despite playing on a short turnaround, they looked like the more spritely team in the opener.

If Memphis was able to waltz into Utah and steal the opening game of the postseason, playing at home might not be as big of an advantage as it seemed before the playoffs began.

Jazz Winning Three-Point Battle Vs. Grizzlies

Perhaps the most promising sign to open the series despite spitting the first two games are the types of looks the Jazz are generating from the three-point line.

In eight quarters of play, the Jazz lead all playoff teams in shots deemed “wide open” by the NBA. The league breaks down shot quality by the closest defender in four categories, very tight (0-2 feet), tight (2-4 feet), open (4-6 feet), and wide open (6+ feet).

Through the first two games, 24.6 percent of the Jazz looks have been deemed wide open by the NBA. That includes 24 percent of the team’s three-point shots.

That means the Grizzlies really haven’t been able to alter much of the Jazz regular-season offense when 25.5 percent (league-best) of their shots were wide open and 23.9 percent of their threes were taken with the closest defender further than six feet away.

Additionally, the team is attempting an identical 43 threes per game, just as they did in the regular season.

This is probably bad news for the Grizzlies who have done little to disrupt the Jazz high-powered offense and one-half of the equation that helped them finish with the best record in the NBA this season.

If the Jazz continue to create not just good shots, but wide open shots, they’re unlikely to have another shooting night as poor as they did in the playoff opener. In the 48 games this season the Jazz shot at least 36 percent from three, they had a record of 41-7. When they hit at least 15 threes, they went 39-10.

As good as Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks have been through the first two games of the series, Memphis needs more firepower if they want to keep up with the Jazz hot shooting.

Gobert Won’t Get Played Off The Floor

The narrative surrounding Rudy Gobert historically is that the more traditional center has been played off the floor during his playoff career.

The fact is, it’s never been true, and Gobert has further titled the scale over the first two games of the series.

Despite playing just 25 minutes in the opening game, Gobert has strung together two fabulous performances to begin the playoffs.

In game one, Gobert scored 11 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, and blocked three shots on a perfect 4-4 from the field before fouling out.

In game two, the All-NBA center upped his performance to 21 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks while shooting 9-11 from the field.

And, he’s doing this against Jonas Valanciunas, one of the better seven-footers in the league. Not only has Gobert been impressive statistically, he’s had several eye-opening highlights including a massive block on Morant who challenged him at the rim, and an unstoppable offensive performance in the fourth quarter of game two.

Jazz fans have been singing the praises of Gobert for several years now, though the nuances of his game don’t lend themselves to more casual NBA Fans.

However, over the first two games of the series, it’s been anything but difficult to see exactly how impactful the All-Star is.

Jazz Must Avoid The Awful Quarter

Though the series sits tied at one game apiece, it’s not hard to see that the Jazz have been the better team throughout most of the series.

Perhaps the easiest way to see the difference is to look at the quarter by quarter breakdown which paints a pretty lopsided picture.

The Jazz have won five of the eight quarters so far in the series while outscoring Memphis 171-132 in those quarters.

That’s an average margin of 7.8 points per quarter, a pretty staggering margin if the Jazz were to maintain the number over all four quarters of the game.

In one of the three quarters, the Jazz lost, they were outscored by only three, that was the 34-31 point third quarter in game one.

Add that to their five winning quarters, and the Jazz still have a 202-166, with an average margin of six points per quarter.

However, those strong quarters have been nearly completely undone by two truly horrendous quarters for the Jazz on both ends of the floor.

In the second quarter of game one, the Jazz were outscored  32-19, while shooting just 25 percent from the floor and 18 percent from the three-point line. That’s how the Jazz turned a seven-point first quarter lead into a six-point halftime deficit, and a hole they never could fully dig themselves out of.

In the third quarter of game two, the Jazz were outscored 43-29, allowing the Grizzlies to shoot 66 percent from the floor and 55 percent from three, and widdle a 20 point lead to just two points in the waning seconds of the period.

Those two quarters alone have allowed Grizzlies to turn a 36 point margin in all other quarters to just nine at the end of the two games.

The Jazz could have easily coasted into Memphis with a two-game series lead of not for Sunday’s second quarter, and wouldn’t have had to play Gobert and Mike Conley for the entire fourth quarter on Wednesday had it not been for the third quarter.

If the Jazz want to end this series in short order, they’ll have to avoid full quarter letdowns.

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