The Utah Jazz undoubtedly had their issues in the clutch against the Memphis Grizzlies. However, the second quarter continues to be their problem period.
So, after winning six straight games and putting themselves into the conversation for a Top 4 seed in the West, things have been less than rosy for the Utah Jazz recently. Following Saturday’s 102-95 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the team has suddenly dropped three of its last four contests. As a result, fans have begun to chirp.
One of Jazz Nation’s major points of contention and a common theme during the recent downturn has been Utah’s inability to come through at the end of games.
Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, for example, the Jazz led by as many as nine in the fourth quarter, only to concede the game at the end. And in Tuesday’s loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Jazz lost by double digits despite leading for much of the first half and getting to within four in the game’s waning moments.
It was the same story in the Grizzlies game, with the Jazz cutting Memphis’ lead to 3-5 points on multiple occasions only commit a fatal turnover, miss a shot or fall prey to questionable officiating.
Nevertheless, I’m here to tell you the team’s biggest problems lie long before crunch time and clutch play ever factor into their games. Forget the fourth quarter and narratives about the team falling asleep at the wheel with the game on the line. The real problem period is the second.
In all three of the aforementioned losses, the Jazz were outscored in the second quarter. In the last two, they were outscored by a combined total of 59 to 33. And this isn’t just a recent trend; the Jazz have been horrible in second quarters all season long.
On the year, the Jazz are dead last in the league in second quarter scoring at 23.6 points per game. They’re also last in assists at 4.5 and rank in the bottom six league-wide in field goal (43.9), three-point (32.0) and free throw (72.8) percentage.
In other words, their second quarter offense stinks.
Any talk about clutch play is recency bias. After finishing with a 14-28 record in games that were within five points in the final five minutes in 2015-16, the Jazz are 17-12 so far this season. Moreover, the Jazz currently boast the second-best scoring differential in the league during the fourth quarter, outscoring opponents by 1.9 points on average.
So on to the matter at hand; specifically, why the Jazz offense sputters in the second quarter. The reasons are multiple, but in my estimation, injuries and inconsistent rotations are a big part of the equation, with players moving in and out of the lineup and their roles on the floor being in a constant state of flux.
This has really stymied the efforts of Jazz coach Quin Snyder and his squad at building chemistry or finding a flow out on the floor. It’s also crushed the team’s depth, which has really hurt the cause heading into halftime.
You could look to the point guard position, the spot where Utah’s offense begins, for answers. Until recently, George Hill has been a force to be reckoned with at the start of games, but when the backup comes in, things grind to a halt at times.
As Snyder continues to tinker with the point guard rotation, Shelvin Mack, Dante Exum and Raul Neto have all gotten a bite at the apple, but none have truly been given the reins behind Hill. As a result, we’ve yet to see somebody step up and establish themselves as the guy.
However, any woes at the point guard spot pale in comparison to what’s going on in the frontcourt. The Jazz are outscored by 6.3 and 3.7 points per 100 possessions respectively when Trey Lyles or Joe Johnson are in the game during the second period. Even Rudy Gobert has a negative net rating in the period.
Having said that, the team’s worst second-quarter player by far is Joe Ingles. The Jazz have been outscored by more than seven points per 100 possessions in the period with Ingles on the floor. Overall, it’s 12-point net swing in the wrong direction compared to when he sits.
Clearly, as the caliber of Ingles’ teammates declines, so too does his own effectiveness. As is the case with Johnson, Slow-Mo’ Joe has been better with the starters and/or in the clutch.
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Nevertheless, I find it difficult to pin Utah’s second quarter woes on any individual player or position group; the combinations and that lack of chemistry are what kill. It’s an issue Coach Snyder needs to solve sooner rather than later lest the problem get amplified in the postseason.
Whether that’s a matter of more time on the floor together, a rotational change or a need for some new blood in the second unit, a decision needs to be made. And, once it has, a level of consistency must be established.
The fate of the season may well depend on it.