Jazz Go Big In Paint To Beat Undersized Trail Blazers

Dec 29, 2021, 11:33 PM
Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay finishes against the Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Im...
Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay finishes against the Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images)
(Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz earned their fifth straight win with a 120-105 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Portland was both undersized and shorthanded playing without four of their top nine rotation including three front-court players and their second-leading scorer CJ McCollum.

The Jazz were without Donovan Mitchell but got a balanced effort with six different players scoring at least 15 points as the team won their eighth straight contest on the road.

Post-Heavy Jazz Punish Portland

The Jazz have been notoriously flustered by some small lineups in the NBA as opposing teams have felt comfortable switching shorter defenders on the Jazz post players and preventing their patented pick and roll.

That was one of the main reasons the Jazz were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs last season, despite owning the best record in the NBA.

This season, the team clearly took note of the problem and has taken major strides to correct it.

In addition to Bojan Bogdanovic who was the Jazz’s best post option last season, the team added Hassan Whiteside and Rudy Gay, both adept scorers on the block, while giving Rudy Gobert more options to prove he can abuse smaller players in switch-heavy defenses.

Perhaps more than in any other game this season, the Jazz attacked the Trail Blazers in the paint due to the lack of size on the Portland roster.

Larry Nance was the one veteran big man on the roster so the Jazz made a clear game plan to get the ball into the paint and let their big men go to work.Β The Jazz crushed Portland down low, outscoring the Blazers 74-30, including 14 points on 7-9 shooting in non-restricted area shots in the paint.

Though it’s only a matter of a few feet between the restricted area and the high post, Jazz coach Quin Snyder credited Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside for establishing deeper position near the rim this season.

“If they fight for the rim, and they get deep I think their size really becomes a factor and it’s just much easier to find an angle to pass the ball to them,” Snyder said. “So I think we’re doing a better job — them fighting for the rim.”

Gobert shot 8-10 from the floor for 24 points while Whiteside shot 6-9 for 15 points.

But the Jazz seven-footers are their only low post options. Bogdanovic and Gay both got opportunities to punish Portland in the paint and took advantage, leading to a breakout 21 point performance for the off-season addition.

“He’s capable of scoring over size in the post, too, because he’s usually bigger than the guy that’s guarding him,” Snyder said of Gay. “He has the ability to rise up and make that little mid-range jump shot.”

There’s no arguing that the mid-range shot is less efficient than how the Jazz performed offensively last season, but with Gobert and Whiteside pushing smaller defenders underneath the rim, the team can eliminate some of that inefficiency.

Furthermore, if teams do try to punish the Jazz as the Clippers did last season in the second round of the playoffs, they need to be better prepared to counter the move offensively.

Portland didn’t have any choice but to play small, but the Jazz showing no mercy against the undersized, switch-heavy defense is a good sign for the chess match of the NBA playoffs.

Preparing For Shorthanded Teams

The Jazz had has two tough outings against shorthanded teams in wins over the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Dallas Mavericks recently.

Both teams were playing without significant star power, especially considering how well the Jazz have avoided needing to sit players, and yet, the games were decided by 12 points and four points, both needing big fourth quarter performances to secure the wins.

Before the game, Snyder discussed preparing for shorthanded teams like the one they faced in Portland.

“There’s a tipping point really where if there’s enough guys out at certain positions, you really begin to see it,” Snyder said.

The Trail Blazers were extremely shorthanded in the frontcourt whereas previously mentioned, only Nance Jr. was available against the Jazz.

Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington were both in COVID protocols while Cody Zeller was out with a leg fracture.

That forced Portland to sign Reggie Perry on Tuesday with only 26 games of previous NBA experience under his belt and was forced to play 14 minutes just one day after signing with the team.

However, Snyder did warn that believing a team is shorthanded can be a dangerous bet, especially with a player the quality of Lillard in the lineup.

“Sometimes certain players impact that more than others,” Snyder said of Portland’s paired-down roster. “To me, when I see Dame out there, Portland looks the same.”

Silver Lining To NBA’s COVID Issues

Though Jazz fans haven’t seen it yet due to the surprisingly good health of the roster, Trail Blazers acting head coach Scott Brooks said there was a small silver lining to the NBA’s rash of players who have had to spend time in the COVID protocol.

With so many players unexpectedly missing games, the league is currently filled with players who may have otherwise never had a chance to take part in an NBA training camp, much less play regular season minutes.

“There’s a lot of players that work every single day of their young life and college career to get a chance to be an NBA player,” Brooks said.

In the Trail Blazers loss to the Dallas Mavericks, three players made their NBA debuts after signing emergency 10-day deals the day after Christmas.

Jarron Cumberland, Brandon Williams, and Cameron McGriff all signed with Portland just a few days ago and saw minutes against the Dallas Mavericks.

“We had three of them last game who had never played in the NBA, never went to a training camp,” Brooks said. “They got into an NBA game and they don’t know how long their career will be. Who knows, that might jumpstart a 10-year career.”

Brooks should know how unexpected chances can earn into life-changing opportunities. After going undrafted out of UC Irvine, Brooks spent two seasons in the CBA before joining the Philadelphia 76ers in 1988.

That opportunity led to a 10-year NBA career spent with seven different franchises.

“I do have a soft spot for that because I had to fight to get in it. I was lucky enough to play over a decade,” Brooks said. “They got a chance to put on a Portland Trail Blazers jersey and get into layup line and get in the game and score a bucket.”

Williams scored seven points in his Blazers debut, McGriff knocked down a three-point shot, while Cumberland made his only field goal attempt for two points.

Perry scored four points and grabbed four rebounds in his Portland debut.

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