Jazz Get By Knicks 87-82

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SALT LAKE CITY — After getting trounced by Denver Monday night the Knicks headed to Utah to play the Jazz, the 2nd game of a 5 game west coast road trip for New York.

The last time these two teams got together was November 4th at Madison Square Garden. It was a super entertaining contest, as Utah’s Trey Burke hit a shot at the buzzer for a 102-100 Jazz win. Carmelo Anthony racked up 46 of the Knicks’ 100 points, while Gordon Hayward finished with 33 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals.

Neither Hayward nor Anthony would play tonight. Anthony has undergone major knee surgery, while Hayward was experiencing back issues.

Underachiever Tim Hardaway, Jr. missed his second game in a row for the Knicks, ditto seldom used forward Quincy Acy. Point guard Jose Calderon remains sidelined with a bad ankle.

Neither of these 2 teams are headed for the playoffs, but the Knicks just seem to be floundering with a stellar 12-50 record going into the game, while the Jazz are building something special. Utah has won 20 of their last 37 and 7 of 9 since the All-Star break.

Utah has the youngest roster in the NBA. Six rookies are on the team. The Jazz have an international flare with two Australians, Dante Exum and Joe Ingals, plus a very large European center.

Their improvement in play in a large part can be attributed to the tall European, center Rudy Gobert. He is a dominant paint presence at 7’2″ and very long arms. Standing straight with his arms in the air he extends to 9’7″ which is just 3 inches short of the rim WITHOUT jumping. Quite a wing span!

Gobert is a French import still learning the game. However, he is quite gifted. Agility, quickness and ability to run the floor make for a very bright future. Since being inserted into the starting line-up 9 days ago, he has averaged 13 rebounds per game, 9.7 points and 2.9 blocks.

Though the team has great young athletes, they primarily play a half-court game. Gordon Hayward, as previously mentioned, was out due to injury. He is the most valuable player on the team averaging 19.5 points per game, 5 rebounds and 4.2 assists. He is also their best perimeter shooter.

The Jazz could have used him tonight, as this game was tight all the way.

New York came out using the exact same play 3 times. A high pick and roll. Alexey Shved sets the pick while Andrea Bargnani (the Italian Brook Lopez) gets the mid-range shot. These two actually have a chance to be back with the Knicks next year. Shved can play both the “1” and the “2” guard. With Calderon hurt and Langston Galloway more comfortable at the “2”, Shved had a superb game against a very tough and unrelenting Utah defense. Shved had his best game of the season scoring 21 points (4 for 7 from 3 point land), 10 rebounds and 7 assists.

Bargnani had 20 points. That mid-range jumper he hits consistently off a pick presents a problem for opposing centers. Tonight it posed a problem for Gobert. The Knicks continue to run that play on offense until someone, usually the power forward fights through the pick or beats the player setting the pick to the spot. Tonight the honors went to Derrick Favors, an “old fashioned” power forward.

Unlike many NBA players who play the “4”, Favors does not have a great perimeter game. He is absolutely fantastic in the paint, and compliments Gobert well. But the Knicks were able to pack in their defense. This contained Gobert, but Favors was able to put up 20 points in the first half.

Last night, Knicks coach Derek Fisher stressed the importance of finishing quarters strong, as Denver, last night’s opponent, had ridiculous runs at the end of the 2nd and 3rd quarters.

Tonight, the Jazz went on a 16-2 run 10 minutes into the first quarter. The Knicks did come back with a 3 and another basket making the score 24-20 after the opening stanza.

Both teams looked sloppy for most of the 2nd quarter. The Jazz however, thanks mostly to Favors, had a mini 11-4 run to end the first half. The Knicks scored only 2 points in the last 3 and a half minutes in the 2nd quarter. The halftime score, 43-35 Utah.

After halftime, an unexpected turn set in. The New York bigs, mainly Cole Aldrich with help from Jason Smith and Lou Amundson (Bargnani doesn’t actually play defense nor get too close to iron) were winning the war in the paint. Favors and Gobert were contained, and the Knicks took a 52-51 lead with 5:43 left in the third quarter. What was extra remarkable was that the Knicks actually executed the triangle offense the way it is drawn up. Everyone got touches and the ball was moving with seemingly effortless passing. The Knicks rotated positions on the floor well.

You can bet that the team will be seeing plenty of that tape.

The Knicks won the third quarter 30-22. The game score was 65, all!

In the fourth and final quarter, the teams traded baskets for the most part, but the active Knick offense started to stagnate. With 2:45 left in the game the score was 80-77 Jazz. Favors, who finished with 29 points, hit 2 free-throws to extend the lead to 5, the largest margin since the start of the second half. Rodney Hood, who came off the Utah bench, kept the Knicks honest. The rookie from Duke has a nice stroke, remember he scored the winning basket when the two teams played in November. He put up 17 on this night, including a little runner to give the Jazz an 84-77 lead with 1:37 left in the fourth quarter.

Bargnani hit 2 free-throws making the score 84-79 with 1:18 left. Trey Burke hit 1 of 2 free-throws. 85-79 with 30.5 seconds left, Knick ball. Schved launched an unbalanced 3 point shot as Dante Exum was about to run into him. A smart play by Schved, as he knew Exum’s momentum would lead to contact. Schved had 3 shots and a stoppage of the clock. He hit the first, missed the second, and hit the third.

On the inbound, Schved fouled Trey Burke again, who made both free throws.

Time ran out on the Knicks, the final 87-82.

Unlike the Denver game there was positives to be taken from this contest. Cole Aldrich dominated the Jazz’ young phenom center putting up 17 points and 10 rebounds. Schved nearly had a triple double and Bargnani continues to shoot well.

After the game tonight they could look in the mirror, a far cry from the feeling they must have had after the Denver game.

-Dave Guarnieri

photo credit: saltcityhoops.com

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