Oh man. I could not wait a second to write this game recap. Not half a second even.
This was the BEST GAME we've played since we were a legitimate team. Not the prettiest, not the most perfect, not the most dominant, just the best.
When I listed signs that our team was progressing yesterday I said there were a bunch yet to go. One of those was this: we had not faced an opponent we were sure was motivated and playing reasonably well, taken their best punch, and still overcome. Yes we beat Dallas, but Dallas played uber-crappy that night. We beat Utah a couple games ago, but they were flat. Golden State was even flatter. Yes, we had something to do with all of that but you still couldn't really say you had seen a good effort from those teams. When the Jazz came out tonight they looked motivated. They were up on their feet and moving. They hustled. They tried hard. They came back and took a lead on us. It probably wasn't their best game of the year but they got some good punches in. We took them. We recovered. We beat them. They wanted this game and we didn't let them have it. That's certainly the first time all year that's happened and probably the first time in many years. That kind of thing is going to have to happen on a regular basis when we start thinking seriously about the playoffs. We're not there yet. But the first step to getting there is winning your first game like that. We just did.
I can't even tell you how many things I liked about this game. Probably the best aspect was how poised we were. Even when we got down you never saw us give up or hang our heads. You always got the sense that we were in this game. The team didn't even think about losing. That is such a big key to success in this league. It's a game of runs, of tidal emotions. Young teams see every high tide as a bonanza and every low tide as disaster. They'll make a run and assume they won the game, only to be crushed and fade as the tide recedes and the other team advances. Not so tonight. We executed and played our game. Where we needed to make corrections we did. We looked like veterans, which is just about the highest compliment you can pay to this team right now.
Another thing that struck me was how much quicker we looked out there. I don't mean individually. Nobody's running or cutting faster nowadays than they always have. But the ball doesn't hang in plays like it was doing earlier in the year. Feet are moving instead of standing. Plays develop quicker in the clock as do resets when those plays don't work. It looks like everybody is reading and making decisions with more confidence which makes every set look more smooth and develop with better pace. In the down times this season we had two speeds: deliberate and rushed. This was neither.
You have to applaud how well the guys followed the defensive game plan tonight. For much of the evening it was brutally simplistic: Do you want three, four, or all five guys in the lane defending? We saw all of those options employed, including the ultra-rare "everybody into the paint" scheme. It worked like a charm. The Jazz hoisted a ton of jumpers in the halfcourt. They missed the vast majority of them. Granted it's easier to guard the Jazz that way than it would be for most teams, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee that the team is going to do it. How many times this year have we known of a rock-solid key to success and still only made a half-hearted stab at it? Tonight we were not only focused on the plan, we followed it with diligence and energy.
On the offensive end the huge factor was free throws. We DOUBLED the Jazz attempts, 46-23. We made more free throws (37) than they attempted. When you get 37 points from the line it's going to be hard to beat you. The great team pace had something to do with that, as did the willingness of Travis, Jarrett, Brandon, et al to keep driving. I am hard pressed to remember more than 2-3 truly bad shots tonight. That's not bad out of 68 attempts.
As I said, it wasn't a perfect game. We got smoked like a salmon on the boards, 50-39. We allowed 18 offensive rebounds. They shot 94 times to our 68. We started to have trouble in transition during their third-quarter run. Most of these things are typical. Through all of it we never lost focus on our game plan (or at least found our focus again quickly) and we never stopped hustling. Second to the free throws, our energy really carried us through the night.
--Super Trout + Fourth Quarter = Magic. (And not the Orlando kind.) The guy had 21 points in 27 minutes and drew 14 foul shots all on his own. I was actually kind of mad at Mike Rice for making ridiculous comparisons to Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, and other hall-of-famers. We don't need that. Unsubstantiated exaggeration was for last year's team and the year before. Travis is doing something spectacular right before our eyes, honestly and truly. We've figured out how to work him in without disrupting the offense. He's also giving us plenty of energy on the defensive end. He came up with a couple steals and a couple of decisive fourth-quarter rebounds even! I don't know how long this run will last but we should milk it for every darn thing it's worth right now. He is playing as well in the fourth as anyone in the league. Notice, though, that the shots he's hitting are not of the "Wow! Only Travis could make those!" variety. You don't see spinning jumpers from 21 feet anymore. Instead he gets into open space, elevates, and hits real, live, NBA shots, much like you see good shooters everywhere doing. Since his game looks far less ridiculous now perhaps that means he can sustain the run longer.
--Joel Przybilla had a far greater impact on this game than his stat line (8 points, 8 boards) shows. He drew more charges tonight than a Wal-Mart express lane on Christmas Eve. His energy really seems to key the whole team early. It's like it finally dawned on him that it's OK to make an impact. And notice now that he is making an impact clearly and definitively from the opening tip he's getting a lot more minutes and earning far more trust from Nate. He played until the final free-throw fest tonight. Standing ovation for Joel tonight.
--Brandon Roy was again our crunch-time anchor and played marvelously. He scored 29 off of a combination of aggressive drives and fake-induced jumpers. As Travis said in the post-game T.V. interview Brandon drawing so much attention late makes what Trout does possible. He's our version of the Colts' Marvin
Williams Harrison who opens up the field for all of the other receivers.
--You may be tempted to pan the point guards because none of them had great statistical nights but keep a couple things in mind. First they kept the front side of the zone active and tight. Deron Williams had his second straight poor game against us and that wasn't a complete accident. Second all three points chipped in on the boards, netting 10 between them. Two of the three also kept their turnovers under control. (Jarrett was making worse passes than the infamous Butabi Brothers out there tonight.) Also our transition defense was solid for most of the evening and that's usually to the guards' credit. We didn't need them to score a ton. If you'll pardon another overused football expression we needed them to "manage the game" and they did.
--Martell Webster was missing the long ball badly tonight but he drew 8 foul shots and made 7 of them. Again, he just needs to contribute somehow when the shots aren't falling.
--We don't know what the heck James Jones would do if the shots weren't falling because they always seem to. In addition to shooting 3-5 he was 7-7 from the free throw line for 14 points. If this were Valentine's Day we'd all be sending him little candy hearts with "Luv You" printed on them.
--Raef LaFrentz gave us some energy in his 11 minutes out there, including 3 blocks. I don't mind his playing time a bit.
--Channing Frye hit a couple of jumpers but still had some defensive lapses. He got re-christened "The Buzzkill" tonight.
One Sentence Game Summary:
That win was supercalifragilis... supercalifragiloos... supercalifrogeriss...uhhh... just plain nifty.