Utah Jazz

The Play: Jazz Inch Past Mavericks With Youth, Size

Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

The Play: With the game tied in the closing seconds of overtime, Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward drained a game-winner over the Dallas Mavericks as the clock expired:

Why It Mattered: This game — and this shot — had an immediate and tangible impact on the Western Conference standings. With this win over the Dallas Mavericks, the Jazz have moved past the Houston Rockets to take control of the seventh seed, and are now just a game behind the Mavericks, current owners of the sixth seed. Up ahead, the Memphis Grizzlies have just lost Marc Gasol to a broken foot. They have a precarious hold on the fifth seed, 2.5 games ahead of Dallas and 3.5 games ahead of Utah.

While this game between Utah and Dallas was as close as it can get, Utah’s victory is a microcosm of where both teams are trending in both the short and long term: Utah’s headed up, while Dallas is treading water. Right now, Utah is on a seven-game win streak, or the second-longest in the league behind the perennially victorious Golden State Warriors (who are on an effortless 10-game win streak of their own). The Mavericks have gone 10-13 in the 2016 calendar year.

Even more importantly, it’s becoming clear that these teams are pointed in opposite directions for the next three or four seasons. The Mavericks may have achieved their early-season success because of their veteran guile, but against Utah those same players just looked old. On that final play, Hayward (6’8″, 25 years old) essentially ran by Mavericks guard Raymond Felton (6’1″, 31 years old), forcing the slower center Zaza Pachulia to switch onto Hayward, to no avail.

These offensive mismatches in Utah’s favor dictated the game: the Jazz posted an offensive rating of 124.6 on the night, even with the five extra minutes added. That was Utah’s third-best offensive game of the season, and that would also count as one of Golden State’s 10-best games of the year as well.

One reason that Felton was guarding Hayward in the first place on that final play was because small forward Chandler Parsons had such a tough time doing so earlier in the game. Hayward was able to put Parsons on his back twice in the final minute of regulation, scoring key layups that kept the Jazz in the game:

Incredibly, as Jonathan Tjarks noted in his incredibly thoughtful review of the game, Hayward wasn’t among the biggest two matchup problems that Utah threw at Dallas. Tjarks noted that Utah stretch 4 rookie Trey Lyles provided valuable floor spacing, scoring 11 points on seven shots in just 14 minutes. An even bigger problem for the Mavericks, though, was covering shooting guard Rodney Hood, who dropped in a game-high 29 points on 26 shots — plus five assists with no turnovers. As you can see on the reel of all 29 of Hood’s points, Dallas rotated a variety of defenders onto Hood, but the 6’8″ guard was easily able to shoot over all of them:

In terms of Win Probability, Hood’s contested three-pointer to send the game into overtime was about as important as Hayward’s game-winner.

When fully healthy, the Jazz will trot out 6’6″ point guard Dante Exum to go alongside 6’8″ Hayward and 6’8″ Hood. Utah scorers rising over smaller defenders to drain shots could be a feature of the Western Conference Playoffs for years to come.

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