PHILADELPHIA — If there is any silver lining the Utah Jazz can take away from their 105-98 loss to the 76ers on Sunday it is that they had a pretty bad shooting night, Joel Embiid dropped 59 points, and they really still were in the game.
But, you could also look at the boxscore and see that the Sixers went 4-of-23 from 3-point land and their best player still got 59 points, so that’s not great.
Ultimately the Jazz lost this game because they didn’t play smart and they were on the wrong side of an absolutely incredible performance.
Joel Embiid is just so, so good
The career-high 59 points on its own is incredible. But so is the 18-of-23 from inside the arc, his 20-of-24 from the free throw line, his 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 7 blocks.
He sliced and diced up the Jazz and made basically everything they threw at him look juvenile. What could they have done differently?
“That’s a great question,” Kelly Olynyk said. “I thought we did alright in the first seven-eight minutes, and then kind of let him get into a rhythm there at the end of the first and then in the second quarter, we kind of let him play a little to free and easy. We let him get to his spots. It’s tough. I mean, there’s so many things you could say you could have done, should have done differently, but he played really well.”
There are definitely things the Jazz are going to look at on film that they’ll wish they’d done differently. The communication when they tried to double Embiid was awful, they didn’t really try to get the ball out of his hands and let him dictate the entire game, they kept putting him on the foul like and they left him open too often early in the game.
But, no matter the situation, when a player is able to work through different coverages and different defenders and score in the variety of ways that Embiid did, and he finishes the night with 59 points, you kind of have to just tip your cap.
It would be one thing if you could blame the Jazz’s poor shooting on them being tired and not having their legs on the second game of a back-to-back, but I went back and rewatched all the Jazz’s 3-point attempts and there were only (maybe) four shots that looked like they were short. Mostly the Jazz’s shots were just off-target, rushed, or bad shots.
Bad shots usually are a product of bad decisions earlier in the shot-clock and the Jazz made a lot of bad decisions, even when they weren’t shooting from distance.
“Philly had 14 blocked shots,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said. “That’s a lot of poor spacing and poor decision making.”
Yeah, and when you watch them all together it is a lot of the Jazz driving into traffic and not protecting the ball and not using a modicum of offensive space and just plain not being smart. And you can watch them all together because I put them all in one place for you:
“When that happens, we get stuck and we kind of shoot tough shots,” Mike Conley said. “Or our shots get blocked. We made it a lot tougher ourselves then we probably should have.”
After the game, some people were mad about the calls the Sixers were getting and the fact that Embiid went to the line 24 times, but again, I went back and watched every Jazz foul and there was only one that I thought was really questionable (a Lauri Markkanen foul on Embiid).
The truth is that Embiid is one of the best at drawing fouls and selling contact, and there’s a difference between flopping, and selling contact. Flopping suggests that there was no foul, but selling contact is making sure that the foul that was committed gets called, and Embiid is one of the best at that. His rip-through is literally on every scouting report.
The Jazz were just undisciplined and they got caught committing a bunch of cheap fouls that only helped Embiid and the rest of the Sixers. The Jazz can’t play sloppy defense and hope that they aren’t going to get called for reaching or pushing guys or making contact. Those are bad decisions and they just have to be smarter.
Free throw weirdness
Through the first five games of the season the Jazz were 28th in the league in free throw percentage. That’s very close to having the worst percentage.
The next six games on the schedule the Jazz shot 84.7% from the charity stripe, which was very good. Since then the Jazz have dropped off a little, shooting 74% from the free throw line in the last handful of games and that number is not helped out by the 56.5% they shot in the loss to the Sixers.
“We’ve been thinking about the free throws for a while,” Conley said after the game. “We started the year off not making them, went through a stretch of making them and starting to feel it and get into a rhythm. Tonight we went back and weren’t able to convert.
“If you look back, it’s a tight game, but with our free throws it would have given us a chance to hang in at the end. We know that you and we’ll be better. We’ll continue to get to the line and I’m sure guys are going to be thinking about it.”
Overall I don’t think that there’s anything to worry about with the free throws. The greater point is that these numbers usually even out with a bigger sample size and the season is still early. But it really stinks to have such an off night when the game is so close.
Even Markkanen, who is a career 85.2% free throw shooter, went just 1-of-4 from the line on Sunday, including a couple that could have made it a one-possession game down the stretch. It’s not the free throws that the Jazz are going to be rewatching on film and trying to fix, but those are some of the shots that the players will replay and think about on the flight home. Those are going to eat at them.