By Emry DowningHall
Any former Sega Dreamcast fans in the building? Right now, I have my hand held high. I was a big fan of that system. Although rivaled by Virtua Tennis, far and away my favorite game was NBA2K2. And while it has been surpassed by advancing technology it remained, for me at least, the most playable hoops simulator for a few years beyond its release.
It was the final installment of the 2K series on the Dreamcast and featured some amazing new features that remain hoops simulation constants to this day, including passing lane intercept and individual post play. It also allowed you to go for 60+ points with any elite superstar but this is beside the point.
NBA 2K2 included some amazingly generic audio clips which were barked from what you have to assume was the coaching staff of the team you were controlling. Gems like, “Pick it up! We’re not hear to lose!” and “Take the three only when I tell you!” They were also keen on yelling out, “PRESSURE! PRESSURE!” at all times.
The reason for this stroll down memory lane is among those pointless audio clips lies a gem that rings true for the Houston/Utah series. If your team had given up an easy transition bucket or perhaps a big dunk, or sometimes for no reason at all, the coaching staff would bellow. “Defense! It’s a matter of desire!”
This is what ran through my head while watching the Utah Jazz out hustle and ultimately out grind the Rockets on Thursday night to bounce back and take game three at the Delta Center. I suppose it’s possible that Boozer and company were inspired by a now ancient video game console, but more likely the win is a result of the often underappreciated defensive guru Jerry Sloan and his schemes.
No matter how tight a defensive gameplan, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming are going to put in work. Yao had 26 points and 14 rebounds while T-Mac chipped in 24 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. Neither shot particularly well from the field, but those are solid numbers no matter what. Shane Battier added 11 points and Rafer Alston had 6. Beyond that, the rest of the Houston team threw up a donut while shooting 32% from the floor. Not the kind of support T-Mac had in mind when he called this the most talented team he had ever played on. This was evident in the post game interviews where McGrady made mention of the squads backups needing to come harder for game four. I think we can all agree that this is a fair assessment by McGrady.
It was clear from the jump that the Jazz were happy to be back in good old Utah and looked fresh out the gate. Andrei Kirilenko had another anonymous night, but was able to hook his boy Carlos Boozer up with a nice lob in the first quarter for a big alley-oop that got those wild Jazz fans out their seats. You have to love the way Booze Cruise throws down. His elevation is solid but I think his dunks look so good because of the way he just throws the ball through the rim. He reminds me of Charles Barkley in that regard.
I need to touch on AK-47 for a minute. First let me say that this was clearly his best game of the series. I realize if you just look at the box score (2 points, 3 rebounds, 1 dime, 1 steal, 4 fouls, 27 minutes) his output looks abysmal but he does change a lot of shots. Then again, the fact that I am making an attempt to bill this performance as somewhat of an upgrade from a former all-star really shows how far he has slipped this season. I have no idea what the issue is beyond the obvious, he’s in a slump pressing too hard to breakout cliché. I know one of you has the inside scoop. Let me know the deal.
Carlos Boozer once again brought out the heavy weaponry knocking down long jumpers and doing work in the paint. Boozer scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds putting a number of jumpers right in big Yao’s mug or floating them over his outstretched arms.
A lot of post guys get criticized for not making their move around the basket quick enough. I think Booze Cruise actually makes patience work to his advantage. When he catches the ball facing the basket his triple threat position keeps a bigger defender off balance (Yao). This definitely makes his jab step more effective and if the defender doesn’t bite then he can hit them in the mouth with that awkward jumper. The only time he seems to go immediately into attack mode is on the turnaround where Yao has kept him away from the basket.
For the first time in the series the Rockets were unable to make a substantial run in the third quarter which has been a key in the previous two games. Houston still shot more free throws then the Jazz but this becomes inconsequential when the entire second team fails to register a basket. Now I bit this piece of information from NBA.com, but it appears that this is the first time in playoff history that only four members of a team have scored a basket. Cue Jeff Van Gundy alone in a room watching the offensive footage of his team bumping, “Somebody’s got to die” by Notorious B.I.G.
Perhaps Mehmet Okur took offense to everyone trashing his defense on the regular. Okur was once again without a stroke on offense but had 4 blocks and 4 steals which was barely enough to keep Jerry Sloan from threatening his family. Deron Williams had 11 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists and once again flirted with a triple double. His scoring has been down but he has fallen into a more traditional playmaker role this postseason. Once again, this is most likely due to his very healthy fear of the wrath of Sloan.
This was a solid win for the Jazz who weren’t spectacular on offense themselves but were still able to come away with what they needed to stay in the series. I think they would have gotten swept if they lost this one. The difference between being down 0-3 and 1-2 is clearly a wide margin and everyone who told me I was a fool for picking Houston in five is breathing a little easier right now. Game four is Saturday night in Utah. I am sticking with my prediction of Houston in 5. But the fact that Okur and AK-47 have yet to play well in this series does worry me. I also am fearful of a Deron Williams offensive explosion, which is certainly a possibility. Anyway, that’s what it is. Talk to you on Sunday.