Saturday, April 26, 2008

The series shifts back to Utah...

An unexpected split was the result of Games 3 and 4 in Salt Lake City in a great first-round matchup between the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets.

Game 3 was a game the Jazz did not play well, yet still nearly pulled out the victory. Count the problems the Jazz had in this game: poor free-throw shooting, out-rebounded by the smaller Rockets; and Utah was also outscored in the paint by Houston, a stat where the Jazz are #2 in the league in points-in-the-paint scoring.

Woeful numbers
20-33 shooting from the free-throw line for a measly 60.9 percent. Most important was the fourth-quarter numbers: 2-6 free-throw shooting, and six (six!) turnovers.
Utah was also out-rebounded 43-38, outscored inside 40-26, and let Tracy McGrady have his highest scoring output of the series, scoring 27, including seven in the fourth quarter, where he only had one point combined in Games 1 and 2.
Deron Williams carried the team throughout the first half, scoring 21 of their 44 points.

Outplayed in the First Half
Somehow, the Jazz were tied with the Rockets at halftime, despite being ouplayed physically and energy-wise. Obviously Rafer Alston- who due to injury missed the first two games in Texas- was the catalyst for this energy and physical play. Overall, his 20 points and five assists were numbers that were sorely needed for Houston in Games 1 and 2.
The epitome of the Jazz getting out-hustled in the game were forward Carl Landry's 11 rebounds, seven of which were on the offensive glass. Utah will not win another game in the series if they can't keep a player who plays less than a third of the game to rip the boards on the offensive side so easily.
But, overall, the biggest culprit for defeat was free-throws. Nobody could make 'em- not even Mehmet Okur, who shoots from the charity stripe at 80-plus percent. He shot 4-7. Booz was 3-8. AK, 0-2.

Down the Stretch
It was admittedly quite amazing to see the Jazz nearly overcome a seven-point lead with about a minute to go in the game, with a three of a curl from Kyle Korver, a push-off by McGrady after AK didn't let him cut where he wanted, and then D-Will finding Memo for another trey. However, after T-Mac fails to draw iron on the other end, a fadaway D-Will runner doesn't have a chance when it meets the hand of Carl Landry.
Finally, Tracy McGrady finally failed to not disappear in the fourth quarter this series. Though he struggled in the first nine-and-a-half minutes of the final stanza, and shot just 2-8, he did just enough at the end- two field goals for four points, and three free throws- to barely put Houston over the top.

Game 3
MVP: Alston- 20 points, five assists, court leadership and a high presence of energy that his team fed off.
Goat: Lots of contenders for Utah: Kirilenko, with just five points, two rebounds, one block and no steals (a very un-AK like line indeed); Memo, 3-13 and lazy defense, despite guarding the ancient Deke Mutombo; Kyle Korver. For all the key things off the bench that he did in Games 1 and 2, he did absolutely nothing on Thursday night until hitting a 3 with around 40 ticks left.
Subway Sub of the Game: Landry.
Key Stretch: Houston opens up a 15-8 lead; Utah, highlighted by a surprising corner '3' from Matt Harpring, ties the game at halftime; after giving up control of the game in the third quarter to the Jazz, Houston, down 86-83 with four minutes left, goes on a 10-0 run late in the contest that Utah barely fails to recover from.
Key Play: With just over a minutes remaining, McGrady hits a wide-open jumper from the corner, and Landry gets fouled by Kirilenko. Landry proceeds to hit both free throws to complete the four-point play, and opens up what proves to be an insurmountable 93-86 lead.

In Game 4, the Jazz reverted back to their good habits in the series' first two games in Houston. The Jazz got back to winning the battle of the boards and superior scoring in the paint. After an average defensive performance in Game 3, they stepped it up once again Saturday, holding Houston to just 37.6 percent from the floor. A monster board from Mehmet Okur, followed by two consecutive made free throws, ended Houston's very-alive hopes for a tied series heading back to Texas.

Tracy 'The Game Plan isn't working on Me" McGrady
Once again, T-Mac struggled in the fourth quarter, connecting on just one field goal and mustering just four points; McGrady, who is averaging 23.3 points per game thus far through the series, is averaging just three in the fourth quarter. Additionally, T-Mac is shooting just 39.5 percent from the field (34-86). He may be getting his points, and tallying a fair amount of rebounds and assists as well, but the Jazz defenders- Brewer, Kirilenko, Harpring and Korver, not to mention a dose of D-Will in Salt Lake- are making it tough for him, playing him tight, physical and meeting him at half court.
I had to laugh when after the game Saturday I heard McGrady say that Utah's game plan isn't working on him- not at all. Hmmm, then how do you explain the sub-40% shooting, a 3.0 fourth quarter average, and most importantly, a 3-1 series deficit, Tracy? The game plan seems to be working quite well if you ask me.

Shooting Woes and Booz
Carlos has yet to find his offensive groove in this series. He shot just 3-13 from the field on Saturday, but at least hit all eight of his free-throw attempts and grabbed 14 boards. The team went 0-14 from the beyond the arc, but as Coach Sloan said, "It proves that you don't win the game from the three-point line."

Brewin' well in Utah
Ronnie Brewer played fantastic in Games 3 and 4, and other than Deron was the most consistent player during the Utah trip. He scored 12 points both games on 50-plus percent shooting, and played solid defense on Houston's star in the first half. In fact, Jerry Sloan probably made in a mistake in pulling Brewer, who had been playing fantastic, in the fourth quarter of Game 3 in favor of Kyle Korver, who had his worst game of the series last Thursday.
Not to mention that Ronnie had perhaps the highlight of the series when in the third quarter of Game 4 he crossed over a Rocket along the baseline, and as he went for the reverse layup, was hammered by two more Rockets, only to will his body underneath the center of the basket to face it and throw in a triple-clutch, spinning and-1 shot to give the Jazz added momentum.

Balanced Scoring
Williams led the way with 17 points, followed with 14 from Mehmet and Booz, 12 from Brewer, 11 from AK and 10 from Korv- though he was 0-6 from the three-point line. Balanced scoring has been a consistent mantra throughout the season for this team, so there's no reason for that to stop in the postseason.

Game 4
MVP: Memo, who had 18 boards, and the biggest one being the 18th with the offensive rebound that staved off a possible loss; and Williams, who made two key drives late in the fourth quarter and continued his consistent fantastic play.
Goat: Bobby Jackson- 1-10 shooting; Luis Scola- just seven points, but six fouls to force himself out of the game.
Subway Sub of the Game: Paul Millsap- 8 points, 5 boards.
Key Stretch: Houston, down 16 points midway into the third quarter, cuts it to one early in the fourth.
Key Play: Up 83-78 with 2:35 left, D-Will comes out of the timeout with a thunderous dunk, driving right past Alston and throwing it down over Battier. The next possession, after a Utah stop, he drives past Alston again for a layin. Houston, down nine at that point, cuts it to two twice in the final 20 seconds, but Mehmet Okur rebounds the second of Williams' two free-throw misses and hits the two clinchers with 5.5 ticks left.

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