A night after the Utah Jazz pulled off an improbable comeback against the Miami Heat to win in overtime, it was the same song but difference dance versus the Orlando Magic in front of a nationally televised audience. The Jazz, trailing by as much as 18 points in the second half, utilized a zone defense for more than a quarter and were able to overcome a double-digit deficit to beat the Magic by the score of 104-94. Utah was led by Deron Williams, who had 30 points, 14 assists, and five rebounds. Paul Millsap finished with 23 points, five rebounds, and two steals while Al Jefferson contributed with 21 points and eight rebounds. Orlando was led by a balanced attack, as five players scored in double-figures. That being said, Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter made the biggest impacts. Nelson had 19 points, five rebounds, seven assists, and two steals. Carter chipped in with 20 points. Ryan Anderson started the game for the Magic at power forward but after a few turnovers in the first quarter, he turned over the reigns to Brandon Bass who played a majority of the minutes at power forward the rest of the way.
So what happened?
Well, Orlando was rocking and rolling in the third quarter, displaying excellent ball movement on offense and attacking in transition. Bass was dunking the basketball, Carter and Nelson were making three-pointers, and it seemed like the Magic were well on their way to another blowout victory in the regular season.
Head coach Jerry Sloan had another idea.
With roughly a minute to go in the third quarter, Sloan switched up the Jazz’s defense and went to a zone. That was the game-changer.
Orlando’s offense bogged down immediately, as the players made silly turnovers against the zone and Utah was able to take advantage of those mistakes by going on a 9-0 run to end the period.
Just like that, an 18-point deficit went down to nine.
The Jazz kept at it in the fourth quarter, executing their flex offense to perfection and frustrating the Magic defensively. After Andrei Kirilenko made a layup off an offensive rebound with 7:07 remaining in the game, Utah had went on a 26-2 and took a four-point lead before Nelson made a floater to slow down the bleeding.
For the next few minutes, the two teams went back-and-forth trading buckets but the Jazz never stopped playing their zone defense. Eventually, Utah won the war of attrition as Orlando couldn’t muster up enough opportunities on offense, and that was the ballgame. Improbable as it seemed, all the credit in the world should go to Sloan for making the decision to switch to a zone. Better believe that head coach Stan Van Gundy is going to work hard in practice tomorrow finding ways to improve the Magic’s zone offense because they could barely do anything out there.
Ball movement and dribble penetration are the tenets to breaking a zone defense, yet Orlando was incapable of doing either of those things consistently.
This recap is rather brief, but there’s not much else to say.
One team executed, another team didn’t, and that was the difference in the game.