24 April 2009

Williams' game-winner puts Jazz back in series

This blog is being fueled by a Bleu Bacon Burger from Training Table and was typed while watching the Blazers get handled by the Rockets. Two things:
1) I don't get the State Farm commercial with LeBron James where I think he is mocking his friend for listening to Kid 'N Play. I guess I do get it, I just don't get why anybody would think that was a good commercial to make. LeBron will never be the commercial success that Jordan was because he is in lame commercials and he is lame in those lame commercials. Jordan's advertisments weren't great because they were cool, they were great because they added to his mystique. 'I Wanna Be Like Mike' was just another tool that MJ used to get in the heads of the entire world.
2) Van Gundy makes Mark Jackson look silly. He beats him not only in interesting, relevant comments (the quality insight score at the end of the game is usually something like JVG: 21, Mark Jackson: 1), but also in humor. Jackson was better during his year in a Jazz uniform than he is at telling a joke. I'm saying a lot when I say that.

I'm going to throw in a third thing:
3) I hope that JVG enjoys this broadcasting gig enough to not leave it for a team, but not enough that he would turn down the Jazz when Jerry Sloan decides that he's had enough. I also hope that the Jazz would pursue him. If Larry was in charge, I feel confident that some serious consideration would at least be given to hiring JVG, but Greg Miller has a goatee and wears a Livestrong bracelet, which is not only uninspiring, but also worrisome. (Update: Mark Jackson just gave the Jazz nary a chance to win tomorrow night, JVG predicts they will win; see? JVG knows)

(Wow, the Blazers have cut it to four. Oh, Battier just hit a three-pointer to put it back to a 7-point difference)


Deron Williams' performance last night paralleled the performance of the entire Jazz team, as a whole: not at all their greatest game, but perhaps their greatest moment.

Williams had a tough time getting good looks, and the few times he did, he had a hard time putting the ball in the hoop. Even free-throws were a tough deal for him, with him missing four straight at one point. But, more than any other time that I can remember, he found other ways to help Utah win. Mainly, he controlled and maintained the tempo better than he ever has, and he did it up to the final buzzer. Unlike Tuesday night and the rest of the season, the Jazz's offense in the final 90 seconds was as well-run and organized has it had been the first 47 minutes and 30 seconds.

Then, disproving my theory that the Jazz can't hit a shot in the last 15 seconds of a tight game, Williams made Fisher look silly and drained a jumper with :2.2 left. I think D-Will finally knows how to finish games.

Another great Williams moment was when he got matched up with Kobe Bryant for a play in the third quarter. The mismatch was obvious, but without hesitation, Williams committed himself to playing good defense and not giving Bryant an easy shot. D-Will anchored himself and put his body on Bryant, forcing him to take a jumper that Brewer came over and blocked.

Speaking of Brewer, he seems to get more and more comfortable playing against Bryant at The Larry. He made Bryant work for every shot he took. When Kobe did get going a little bit in the 3rd quarter, Brewer stuck with it not only physically, but mentally too. A lot of times, Brewer seems to be playing defense with his body, but his mind somewhere else. Brewer's confidence in guarding Therapist at Staples is much slower in growing, though.

Bryant was probably having an off-day, but Brewer kept with him and made sure his shot was never found. It was, by far, Brewer's best defensive performance since he was drafted. He affected Bryant's shots. With Kobe, defenders have to add even the slightest degree of difficulty to his attempts. It isn't easy, because Bryant can score in so many ways, but he can be affected, and continuous pestering can decrease his confidence. Just look at Bryant's heave with two seconds left. Kobe let it go about two dribbles before he needed to. It seemed like a conscious decision too. He took one dribble and realized, based on how Brewer had defended him all game, that the 30-footer was the most open he was going to get.

On offense, Brewer hit enough jumpers and his forays into the paint led to a sufficient amount of points and quality passes to force Bryant to keep tabs on him.

Korver and Harpring both hit gigantic shots during that crucial 4th quarter run that got Utah back in the game. Before the final quarter, both players had struggled. Korver couldn't hit anything and Harpring couldn't stay on the court enough to even get shots on account of foul trouble (he had four fouls in his first three minutes of game action). Both players played through their struggles, and ended up impacting the game in a positive way. The Jazz were +9 when Korver was on the court and +7 when Harpring was playing.

Kirilenko had a typical comeback game for him, which is to say, he was pretty great. He was penetrating the Laker defense for points that he set up or scored for himself. His defense was disruptive at important parts of the game, especially in the first half.

If Jerry Sloan was a New Age Geek Coach, he would give AK the cold shoulder or put him in the doghouse somehow before game four, then forgive him and put him back in the starting line-up in game five. Kirilenko would play amazing, like he does whenever he comes back from injury or is put back in the starting line-up. He never maintains the great play, though. It's funny that Kirilenko is such a numbers-watcher, because he played great last night but only finished with 8 points, 0 rebounds, 3 assits and one block. His impact on the game has absolutely nothing to to with statistics, but he presses on in evaluating his happiness based on the numbers he achieves. One number he should watch is rebounds, but Kirilenko's dearth of rebounds on Thursday can probably be chalked up to Boozer and Millsap grabbing EVERY SINGLE BOARD.

Millsap played awesome, but nobody noticed because of what Boozer did. Millsap pulled down 14 rebounds and finished his lay-ups. Pretty good for someone who probably realized he was seeing his chance of being the Jazz's starting PF next year be eliminated.

Despite Millsap's great game, Sloan probably made a mistake starting him over Collins to start the second half. He set the tone with his physical play and messed with Bynum so bad that Bynum only got in seven minutes of playing time. With Millsap, the defense wasn't quite as stout and a physical precedent for the final 24 minutes wasn't set.

Not only was Thursday night Boozer's greatest moment, it is also in the running for his best game so far. Yes, there were the 23 points and the 22 boards, but he also figured out a way to play defense. Also, his minutes were limited due to foul trouble. (I hope to talk more about Boozer's huge game 3 tomorrow.)

The Jazz offense wasn't as effective as it was in either game 1 or game 2, but the overall game was more productive, and the defense kept the Lakers in check.

(Houston ended up winning. Why are the Jazz the only team that can beat them? If Utah does advance onto the second round, I would want to face Portland, though, because they will be just about spent. Houston is the worst play-off match-up. They play so different from everyone else, and it isn't easy to re-adjust. It takes at least a game. Plus, it is almost impossible for a team to come out of series with them without being at least a little bit beat up and exhausted.)

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