Jonathan Bachman, Associated Press
Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) shoots the ball over New Orleans Hornets center Chris Kaman (35) in the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Monday, Feb. 13, 2012.
Less than 24 hours after perhaps their best road performance of the season, the Utah Jazz suffered one of its most disappointing losses Monday evening. Facing an injury-depleted New Orleans Hornets team that only had nine active players on its roster, the Jazz came out flat and despite an impressive comeback attempt by its youngsters, Utah fell 86-80 to New Orleans.
After managing a paltry 51 points through three quarters, Utah’s young core battled back with a 29-20 fourth quarter. They cut what was once a 20-point deficit to three, but it was a matter of too little, too late when the buzzer sounded.
Relative Unknowns: New Orleans enjoyed strong efforts from unexpected sources. 26-year old undrafted rookie big man Gustavo Ayon was active with 13 points on six of seven field goals. He also added nine rebounds and some strong defense on Utah’s front court stars.
While he did not shoot all that well, sophomore point guard Greivis Vasquez had a steady floor game, tallying 12 points, 10 assists, and three steals. More notable was his only committing two turnovers in 38 minutes. It was his assist to Ayon for a dunk in the last minute that essentially sealed the victory for the 5-23 Hornets.
Chris Kaman is not an unknown and his game was the main reason New Orleans earned the win. Just weeks after being held out of games in hopes of a trade, Kaman was dominant for the Hornets, torching the Jazz for 27 points and 13 rebounds. He scored on an array of interior moves and jump shots. A few years removed from being a Western Conference All-Star, Kaman looked like he belonged in the midseason classic Monday.
Struggling Starters: Tyrone Corbin’s starting five started out well, jumping to a 21-13 lead. It was downhill from there, as the bench outscored the starters 41-39. Raja Bell had another solid game with 11 points and while not on par with his regular stats, Al Jefferson had 14 points and 12 rebounds.
But two others struggled mightily. Point guard Devin Harris had just two points and four assists, while giving up the ball three times. Paul Millsap could not buy a layup in the first half and settled in for a frustrating four-point, five-rebound game.
Young Bucks: If there was a silver lining to a very bleak loss, it was that the four NBA lottery picks — Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks — went most of the fourth quarter as an ensemble. Quarterbacked by veteran Earl Watson, the quartet did all they could to give Utah a chance to win. Their energy and fearlessness driving the ball to the hoop brought them within one or two plays of a win.
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Particularly exciting was Burks, who recently had four games where he did not play. His aggressiveness helped bring the Jazz back, getting to the free throw line 10 times in just 14 minutes. He constantly drove the ball right to the hoop and made things happen for his teammates and himself.
Favors also put in a nice effort, producing 14 points and five rebounds. And while he missed a few chip shots, Kanter’s 12 rugged rebounds were integral in the Jazz’s near comeback.
David Smith is providing instant analysis for Deseret News' Utah Jazz coverage this season. He works for LDS Philanthropies and also blogs for the Utah Jazz 360 website. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at davidjsmith1232.