The Comeback Kids
November 30, 2010 -
This year’s Utah Jazz team is definitely not for the faint of heart. Absolutely unreal how they have managed to consistently fall behind by double digits and then somehow come back to win.
It’s even more amazing when you look at the teams they’ve done it against. The Jazz had 8 such 10+ point comebacks during the month of November and managed to pull them off against some of the top teams in the league
Here's a summary of their conquests:
Nov 6: Clippers – trailed by 18 – won by 2 (double OT)
Nov 9: @Heat – trailed by 22 – won by 2 (OT)
Nov 10: @Magic – trailed by 18 – won by 10
Nov 12: @Hawks – trailed by 11 – won by 4
Nov 13: @Bobcats – trailed by 19 – won by 1
Nov 20: @Blazers – trailed by 11 – won by 9
Nov 26: Lakers – trailed by 19 – won by 6
Nov 28: @Clippers – trailed by 10 – won by 12
With the exception of the perennially woeful Clippers whom the Jazz victimized twice, all the teams on the list made the playoffs last season. Additionally, 6 of the 8 wins occurred on the road and 4 of them were on the 2nd night of a back-to-back -- two areas the Jazz have struggled in recent seasons. I don’t have the time or motivation to do the research right now, but I would be surprised if an NBA team has ever had this many double-digit comeback wins in a single month. Truly a November to remember.
While the ability to come back from seemingly insurmountable deficits it’s certainly a good thing, being forced to do it on a regular basis is not. Championship teams don’t routinely fall behind by double-digit margins. They put teams away early. The Jazz have shown tremendous heart and determination by refusing to quit no matter what the score, but they need to come out of the blocks a little faster if they plan to keep winning.
November 22, 2010 -
That headline is my new nickname for Al Jefferson, which I sincerely hope doesn’t stick. While scanning through Big Al's game stats, I happened to notice an interesting and somewhat disturbing trend. He seems to have one good game followed by a less-than-stellar outing. With the exception of the first four games of the season, Jefferson has never increased his scoring output in consecutive games. It goes up one game, then drops the next.
Jefferson’s first regular-season game (heretofore referred to as Game 1) in a Jazz uniform was forgettable. He scored only 6 points against Denver. He has failed to reach double digits only one other time since, a 2-point outing against Miami in Game 7. Big Al’s next-lowest scoring totals came in games 11 and 13, in which he put up 12 and 10 points respectively. In odd-numbered games, Jefferson is averaging a dismal 12 points on 40% shooting (31/77).
Even-numbered games have been a completely different story. Jefferson has averaged 20 points on 52% shooting (60/115) in those contests. He is also averaging 5 more minutes played in those games, which I think is more of a result of his higher productivity rather than a cause for it.
Here’s the real kicker: Utah’s record in even-numbered games is 6-1. In odd-numbered games, it's only 3-4.
The Jazz have only won a single game in which Jefferson scored less than 15 points, and that was the Miracle in Miami when Millsap posted a career-high 46 to offset Big Al’s disappointing night. The team clearly needs his scoring punch, and they tend to struggle without it.
We’re only 14 games into an 82-game season, so there’s not much statistical validity to any of this yet. Still, it’s somewhat concerning that Jefferson seems to have trouble putting up strong performances in consecutive games. The silver lining here is that he doesn’t string together consecutive bad games either. My hope is consistency (the good kind) will come in time as he becomes more comfortable with the system and his teammates.
EDIT: I wrote this article before the Sacramento game (#15 -- an odd number) on Monday night. Naturally, Jefferson had to go damage my theory with a 19-point outing against the Kings. Still, it was statistically worse than his previous game (20 pts on 8-13 shooting), so if he turns in a better performance on Wednesday then the pattern remains in tact.
Paul Millsap Takes His Talents To South Beach
November 10, 2010 -
Let’s pretend you don’t already know what happened. Let me give you some key statistics from last night's Utah @ Miami game, and you tell me what outcome you would expect:
- Al Jefferson has his worst game of the season, scoring only 2 points on 1-7 shooting and spends the entire 4th quarter on the bench
- Raja Bell manages only 3 points on 1-6 shooting, his lowest output of the year
- CJ Miles hits only 5 of 14 shots including a dismal 0-6 from behind the arc
- The Jazz shoot 27% from the field in the first half and trail by 19 points at halftime
- Deron Williams fouls out
- Ronnie Price and Francisco Elson are in the lineup at the end of the game
- Dwayne Wade scores 39 points while shooting over 50%
- Lebron James posts his first triple-double in a Heat uniform (20 pts, 11 rbs, 14 asts)
- Chris Bosh exceeds his season averages in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks
- The Heat’s “big 3” combine for 76 points, 26 rebounds, 18 assists, 5 blocks, and 2 steals
- Miami attempts 47 free throws to Utah’s 21
- The Heat outrebound the Jazz and have fewer turnovers
Presented with that list of facts prior to the game, I would have guessed Utah loses by at least 20. Well, unless you’ve been living in a sports-free bubble for the past 12 hours, you know that despite the aforementioned statistics, the Jazz managed to mount a furious comeback and stun the Heat in overtime (despite trailing by 8 points with less than 30 seconds in regulation). So how in the world did this happen?
Three words: Paul Freakin’ Millsap
In one of the most impressive individual performances I’ve ever witnessed, Paul Millsap placed the Jazz squarely on his undersized-for-a-power-forward shoulders and willed them to an improbable victory. He scored 46 points (the most of any Jazz player since Karl Malone in 1998) and grabbed 9 rebounds while taking charges, playing tough defense, and doing everything but wiping sweat off the floor during timeouts.
Although most of his damage was predictably done in the paint, Millsap showcased a well-rounded offensive game, including the debut of a new weapon in his arsenal: the 3-point shot. Sap hit three clutch 3-pointers in the final minute of regulation to help force overtime. Prior to this game, he had only made two 3s in his 5-year NBA career. Jazz and Heat fans were equally stunned.
To be fair, Deron Williams (21 pts, 14 asts) and Andre Kirilenko (16 pts, 9 rbs, 7 asts) also contributed solidly to the victory, but this was Millsap’s show. Prior to the game, Chris Webber on NBA TV chose Sap as his fantasy pick of the night, stating that he believed Paul would have a strong performance against Miami’s front line. In his wildest fantasy, however, I don’t think CWebb imagined how right he would be.
Through the first 7 games, Millsap is now averaging 24 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists while shooting over 63% from the field. He won’t sustain this level for the entire season, but he’s already proven to be more than just a suitable replacement for Boozer at the power forward position. Millsap is a clear upgrade.
CJ Miles - Jazz Wild Card
November 4, 2010 -
In a conversation with a fellow Jazz fan during the preseason, I stated that Utah’s wins this season would be more heavily correlated with CJ Miles’ performance than any other player. My thought process was as follows:
The PG position is rock solid. Deron is the best in the league, and the addition of Watson gives the Jazz a proven vet playing behind him. Price can fill in as needed.
The PF/C rotation is looking great with Jefferson, Millsap, AK, Memo, and a much-improved Fesenko (I'm not even counting Elson who may also contribute). The Jazz are bigger and better here on both sides of the ball over last season and will match up favorably with just about anyone.
The wing positions provide the biggest question marks. The Jazz haven't had consistent scoring from the wing in years. They've also had the propensity to get absolutely lit up by opposing SG/SFs. Bell will help with perimeter defense and outside shooting. Hayward should contribute, but it's tough to expect too much from him this year. Kirilenko will be important, but he's really more of an interior player than a true wing.
I think the major wild card is CJ. If he can provide that scoring punch and defensive energy off the bench, effectively taking some of the pressure off Deron and Al to have a big game every night, the Jazz will be a tough team to beat.
The first four games of the season have certainly supported my theory. Miles has averaged 20 points in Utah’s wins and only 2 points in their losses. Taking that a step further, he was 1-8 FG (0-3 3pt) combined in the two losses and 15-25 FG (8-11 3pt) in the two wins. That's a pretty remarkable contrast.
In the spirit of full disclosure, Miles was hardly the only Jazz player who stepped up his game in Utah's victories. But I can confidently say that no other player performed so poorly in the losses.
As CJ Miles goes, so go the Jazz… At least after four games.