Utah's 98-94 victory over the visiting Denver Nuggets spurred several thoughts in my mind during and following the game. There were many things that I observed during the victory, and many things that will provide intrigue and be of interest to continue watching as the Jazz move on in the regular season.
Andrei Kirilenko’s New Role
Kirilenko opened the regular season the same way he did the preseason—on the bench. However, it wasn’t due to suspension or injury—it was due to his new role as a source of energy and momentum off the Jazz’s bench.
“It (coming off the bench) doesn’t really matter, as long as you play in the game.” Kirilenko said following the victory. “There are some good sides when you are coming off the bench, and you have a chance to see the game from the beginning. You can see who’s really dangerous and how you can help.”
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan stuck with his plan as young C.J. Miles got the start against the Nuggets Wednesday night. But after Miles picked up his second foul seven minutes into the first quarter, Sloan turned to his newest weapon off the bench.
All Kirilenko did was rattle off 16 points off the bench on 6-of-9 shooting, including 1-of-1 from downtown in 35 minutes of action.
Add to that the six rebounds, two blocked shots, and three assists Kirilenko picked up and it is easy to see the value of the Jazz’s newest reserve player.
“I’m trying to be valuable coming off the bench.” Kirilenko added. “I’m trying to get some deflections, steals, blocks, run the floor a little bit, and bring a little spark and energy from the bench.”
No Deron, No Problem
Okay, that might be a little off base. No Deron equals a huge problem for the Jazz. But on Wednesday night Utah was able to escape with a victory, despite the absence of their star point guard.
Ronnie Price filled in for the injured Williams, and despite his poor 1-of-9 shooting performance from the field, Price was still able to contribute to the Jazz’s victory.
With Price in the starting role, Sloan designated the majority of the play calling to himself—something he hasn’t done since the emergence of Williams.
“Ronnie price, I thought, did a really good job.” Sloan said. “He’s a competitive person; we see that every day with him in practice. He worked very hard to try and keep us in our offense. I called a lot of our plays that I don’t ordinarily call, but he did a good job.”
Despite the poor shooting from the floor, Price did knock down two crucial free-throws to extend the Jazz’s lead to four points in the final second of the game.
It wasn’t the 18.8 points or 10.5 assists per game that Jazz fans are used to with Williams, but Price and veteran Brevin Knight did a nice job controlling the Jazz’s offense.
Free Agent Boozer
Auditioning for other teams can be fruitful for a player’s current squad. The highly publicized free-agency of Carlos Boozer after the 2008-09 season could provide dividends for the Jazz during the upcoming season.
Boozer exploded out of the regular season gates with 25 points and 14 rebounds in the win over the Nuggets.
You could say he was stepping up in the absence of Williams. You could say that he is beginning a season-long audition for other teams. You could even say that it is Boozer being Boozer.
Call it what you want. Jazz fans should be happy with any of the reasons as it will continue to be beneficial to this year’s run for a title.
Utah Finally Catches Up
The Jazz finally joined most NBA teams in the league as they had, for the first time ever, a lights out player introduction to start the game.
Equipped with loud fireworks, laser lights, and blaring beats from the new sound system, the Jazz became as other teams and turned their player introductions into a Broadway production that would rival the Phantom himself.
With the Jazz performing the way the did minus Williams, this Jazz season is sure to provide many opportunities for fans to be excited.