Despite the Utah Jazz losing Game 1 to the LA Lakers, the performance by the Jazz has me more encouraged about their chances in this series than before the game started. Coming in, I felt that the Lakers were a nightmare match-up for Utah, specifically because of their length (they sure showed it in the regular season). Although their length was probably the difference in the outcome of Game 1, Utah’s grittiness makes me believe that they will push the Lakers farther than most people realize right now.
For the Jazz to be leading by two possessions down the stretch, in a game that they trailed by 14 on the road, shows a ton of character and mental toughness. Yes, their mental toughness seemed to be in question in the final 2 minutes, as the Lakers closed out the game on a 15-6 run, but just the fact that the Lakers needed to dig THAT deep to pull out the victory says a lot. If the Jazz can continue that kind of fight throughout the series, which I believe they will, they will have a legitimate opportunity to take this series.
Let’s go into my game notes:
– First of all, the Jazz as a whole deserve a ton of credit for showing up on the road. You pretty much know what you’re going to get out of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, but the guys around them showed up as if it were a home game instead of a road game in a hostile environment. CJ Miles, Wesley Matthews, Ronnie Price, Kyle Korver, and Paul Millsap all played their hearts out, and they were real factors in this game. Usually role players would show up in the home games of a playoff series, as they have the home crowd behind them and giving them the extra energy that they need to succeed. Since they were so successful in LA, there is no doubt that Jerry Sloan was proud of their performance. It’s not easy to face a team like the Lakers and remain poised, but these guys did. Continued performances like that by the role players will definitely make a dent in the series. But knowing Phil Jackson, he is already trying to counter that.
– Even though it might not be evident from his stat-line, Lamar Odom really hurt the Jazz. Odom has been giving the Jazz trouble all season long because he is very versatile, and the Jazz don’t have the right guy to check him on a consistent basis. The few baskets he made were uplifting for the Lakers, and his 5 offensive rebounds were exactly what the Lakers needed to build some momentum. As the series moves forward, the Jazz need to make sure that they get a body on him so that he doesn’t continue to get the Lakers second-chance opportunities. Because, believe me, the Lakers are already tough enough when they get one opportunity per possession.
– Another concern that the Jazz need to be aware of is the position where LA’s bigs catch the basketball. I felt like there were too many times when Gasol or Bynum were just a few feet away from the basket when they caught the ball, and in that situation the Jazz have no chance to be successful defensively. The Lakers already have a huge size advantage on the Jazz, so at the very least, the Jazz need to make the Lakers earn their baskets. Of course, it is easier said than done, but the Jazz at least need to effort it. As long as the Lakers’ bigs work for their positioning, I won’t be so mad. But for the Jazz to give them free positioning down low without making them battle for it, is absurd. Every ounce of effort that the Lakers expound will make a difference in the game, and the Jazz need to recognize that moving forward.
– One of the positive spots about this game was Utah’s free throw shooting. As has been evident all year, and especially in Game 6 against the Nuggets, the Jazz have struggled collectively from the charity stripe. I know that the Jazz only made 18 free throws against the Lakers in Game 1, but they shot a good percentage and that counts for something. Overall, the Jazz shot 18-21 from the line (85.7%), which is way better than they usually shoot. Aberration? I hope not (but I’m leaning towards yes).
– If there were any more questions about Deron Williams being the number 1 point guard in the league, they should have been answered. Not only did he run this Jazz offense to a near-victory in Game 1, but he did it with the Lakers knowing fully that he is the man that they needed to stop. Just like the Nuggets found out in the opening round of the playoffs, D-Will is playing at such a high level that you cannot even find a game-plan that will regulate his effectiveness on the game. His competitive spirit is right up there with the greats in the league, and because he is still so young, teams cannot match his intensity. Right now, I would say that Kobe Bryant is the only other guy in this series that is ahead of him in that category (competitive spirit/intensity), but I don’t think it’s at as wide of a margin as most people perceive it to be. I think that Kobe is still extremely dangerous as a player, but I do not think that he is in his prime. Deron Williams, on the other hand, is. If Williams hits his peak at some point in this series, and he steps it up like he is capable of, I truly believe that the Jazz can shock the world.
– Finally, I think that Andrei Kirilenko can play a big role in this series when he comes back. From Game 1, it is obvious to me that this is going to be a scrappy series, where loose balls and defense down the stretch will be the difference. Kirilenko is the perfect player for that kind of stuff, and he will also help the Jazz be a deeper and more complete team. Of course, the Jazz faithful is banking on him to be at the top of his game when he returns. However, when you miss as much time as he has missed that is a lot to ask. Hopefully, the transition period doesn’t take too long, and he can at least be as half as good as he was this season. If you think that this series is over after Game 1, you are sadly mistaken. The fun has just begun.
Tags: Andrei Kirilenko Andrew Bynum Carlos Boozer CJ Miles Deron Williams Jerry Sloan Kobe Bryant Kyle Korver LA Lakers Lakers Jazz Game 1 Pau Gasol Paul Millsap Phil Jackson Ronnie Price Utah Jazz Wesley Matthews