It was a gritty, hard-fought game that came right down to the last possession. The night before, the Houston Rockets had been unable to find Kevin Martin down the stretch when they needed him most, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in overtime. Martin had been essentially neutralized by the Lakers at the most crucial moments.
Rick Adelman had no intention of letting the same thing happen two showdown’s in a row; he would find a way to give Kevin Martin a shot to beat what had been a solid defensive effort from the Utah Jazz all night long.
The Jazz have had a lot of difficulty containing dribble penetration in the last few weeks, getting exploited by opposing guards in the paint. They’ve focused on this deficiency and had managed to stem the tide of high-percentage points in the paint some of late. Indeed, they kept the Rockets’ smalls from going afterburner on ‘em all night long, holding the the speedy, opposing backcourt of Kyle Lowry, Aaron Brooks, and Kevin Martin to an anemic 3-11 inside 10 feet right up until the bitter end.
But it only takes one well-drawn up play, a small burst of hustle, and one roundhouse-of-a-shot to put you away sometimes.
With his Rockets down two, with the ball, and the shot clock turned off, Houston head coach Rick Adelman called a halt to the action to make the most of the remaining 15.3 seconds on the game clock. They huddled up to make a plan for one final, concerted stab at the heart of the Jazz defense…
On the other side of the scorer’s table, Utah’s own battle-scarred shot-caller, Jerry Sloan, would also draw his five guys in tight, telling them, “Whatever you do, don’t foul ‘em!”
Each team took their places for the last time on Houston’s designated end of the floor, the Rockets intent on freeing up their leading scorer, the Jazz equally determined to stop them. What ensued was a remarkable display of edge-of-your-seat execution.
To illustrate exactly how it happened I’m gonna go Sebastian Pruiti on you for a moment (if you don’t visit NBAPlaybook regularly, you really should be. In fact, go there to see how this is done by a pro right after you toe the bottom of the pool here).
It starts with Shane Battier in-bounding from the 20-foot hash mark to Aaron Brooks at the top of the key, then moving toward the baseline to join Luis Scola and Co. Note Kevin Martin lurking back in the far corner behind Raja Bell.
After setting a short pick on C.J. Miles, Battier would turn and head back to the high post position where Brooks would bounce him the ball. Scola and Chuck Hayes are positioned keep the paint clear and the main lane wide open. Millsap is tight on Scola as Al Jefferson takes a step out to the distant Hayes. Our lurking Mini-Mart up in the corner would begin to lean in toward the basket just a little.
As Battier gets the ball, Brooks would clear out of the way, pulling Earl Watson with him to the right as Martin begins his cut down the baseline.
It looks like a two-man pick-and-roll between Battier and Scola is setting up, but that turns out to be a smoke screen.
Brooks would rub off Watson courtesy a Hayes screen on the high side, while Martin would take his baseline cut right around Scola brushing off Bell as he curls back to the paint. A Battier pass fake would waffle Jefferson, who has been surveying the action thus far, ready to move in any direction required.
Martin is finishing his curl-cut as Battier bounces a risky ball under the outstretched arms of Miles, and Jefferson moves to make the cutoff. This is by design, as Kevin Martin would explain in the postgame.
“It’s Super Bowl week you know. Shane was the quarterback right there and I was the wide receiver and I was in triple coverage.”
“It was just like the Giants when they beat the Patriots so we wanted to dedicate that to Super Bowl week.”
Jefferson, on the Sloan hot seat for his defense lately, does everything right here, as much as he can possibly do without…
Echo: “Whatever you do, don’t foul ‘em.”
In real time, in the most difficult-to-officiate of professional sports, and with a rep as a poor defender in the first place, the chances Jefferson gets the benefit of the doubt here are slim to start with.
I replayed this portion of the frenetic moment dozens of times. I don’t think Al ever actually got Martin. But it was close. Real close.
Down two, Martin would draw a whistle as he threw up a prayer.
He simply made a circus play on the goal line.
I can see why Al was so frustrated immediately afterward, having been told explicitly not to foul (as Sloan would explain in the postgame were the instructions in that fateful timeout).
The Jazz had played it about as well as you could have, defensively. They were simply outdone by a determined Kevin Martin executing a perfectly drawn up Rick Adelman offering.
Well done, Houston.
Kevin Martin analogy quotes courtesy Brian T. Smith, Salt Lake Tribune
You can follow Clint on Twitter @Clintonite33
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