The Utah Jazz got into the scoring column in their playoff series with the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday in a 107-101 game that they not only won but also dictated. Part of the reason had to be the warm and homey surroundings in the Salt Palace. There's just something about those 100-foot high brown curtains that brings out the best in the Jazz.
Part of the reason also had to be the fact that Utah out-rebounded Portland by 10, 56-46. The Jazz ruled the boards. They cleaned the glass. They were the law of gravity. Everything that went up came down to them.With 56, they came within one rebound of their highest total of the entire 82-game regular season (and the night they got 57 was way last December in a 135-point offensive frenzy against Golden State).
The Jazz weren't considered a good rebounding club coming into the playoffs. Out of 27 teams in the regular season their overall rebounding percentage of .484 (percent of missed shots taken by them instead of their opponent) ranked 22nd in the NBA. At offensive rebounding they ranked dead last, 27th.
Portland, by comparison, ranked second overall in the NBA in the regular season, with a rebounding percentage of .521, and eighth in offensive rebounding.
These statistics did not bode well for the Jazz when the two were matched in the second round of the playoffs. But after being dominated by the Blazers by a 55-41 count on the boards in Game 1, the Jazz rebounded for a 43-28 advantage in Game 2, and followed that with Saturday's 56-46 edge.
Going into Game 4 today in the Salt Palace the Blazers have to be wondering if a trend is underway.
If a trend is underway, the Jazz will be the first to tell you that their transformation into a 10-armed Bill Russell isn't by accident.
"It's not that we've necessarily turned into better rebounders, or worse rebounders," says Jazz center Mark Eaton. "The key is our offensive execution. When we run our offense the way we're supposed to, we're in position for offensive rebounds, and we're in position to get back on defense so we don't get beat by their fast break."
The Jazz got 17 offensive rebounds Saturday, almost 10 above their last-in-the-NBA regular season average. Eaton had five of them. He says it's not that tough if you're standing where you're supposed to be standing.
"The thing we have to do," he says, "is get set on offense and make them play defense for more than three seconds. If they have to play defense for 20 seconds, they're not as apt to run, and we're in better position for offensive rebounds."
Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan has been preaching this patient-offense gospel since the playoffs began (the Jazz also outrebounded Phoenix in the first round, 176-156), but especially since Portland appeared on the horizon. In the coaches' view, no quick shot is a good shot. Unless your offense is set and your rebounders are in place, even a wide-open, uncontested 12-foot jump shot should be avoided.
"If there's 22 seconds left on the 24-second clock and nobody's there to rebound, it's a horrendous shot," he says.
Push him for examples, and he'll run the film of the end of Saturday's second quarter, when the Jazz, holding a 47-35 lead with just over two minutes to play, turned into liberals.
"We take three or four of the worst shots in the history of basketball," he says with disdain, "and what do they do? They go down and score."
The shots the Jazz took were not while they were ordering a corn dog. They were the kind that, when unsuccessful, gave Portland a chance to rev up its fast break, a break the Jazz talk about in hushed tones as if they're talking about a Ferrari Testarossa.
"Maybe if we were as quick as they are," says Sloan, "but we're not."
Fortunately for Sloan, the Jazz's undiscipline came just before halftime, giving him the chance to use the three or four worst shots in the history of basketball as the theme of his halftime speech.
"He did bring them up," confirmed Jazz owner Larry Miller, who was present. "He didn't holler or scream, he just said the game was ours to win or lose depending on if we wanted to be patient or not."
In the second half, the Jazz were as patient as government contractors. In no time, they put some distance between them and the narrow 49-46 advantage they held at the half. They kept the Blazers from dominating the glass. They didn't give them the keys to their fast break. The Jazz walked away with advantages on the backboards and the scoreboards.
Sloan walked away saying he hopes everyone on his team has the point by now, if they didn't already.
"You win these games with defense," he said. "And it's hard to defend layups."