Albuquerque Thunderbirds 109, Utah Flash 103

First, I would like to thank the young man with the Utah Flash who handed out stats during halftime of tonight’s game. They really make a difference in understanding what is going on, and focus attention on the game. Thanks again.

Today the Albuquerque Thunderbirds avenged their New Years Eve loss with a 109 – 103 win over the Utah Flash in Orem. Credit Thunderbird Head Coach John Coffino and his team for learning from their mistakes of 3 days ago and making adjustments.

The previous match up of these two teams, on New Year’s Eve, was remarkable because the Flash battled back from a 19 point deficit on the merits of their second half defensive effort. I would have LOVED to have heard what Utah Flash head coach, Brad Jones, told the team at halftime. In the first half, the Thunderbirds exploited a casual, disinterested defensive effort from the Flash, particularly from the perimeter, as the T-birds lit up the Flash for 61 first half points. The second half, however, was a totally different story. The the Flash played 24 minutes of inspired defense, and held the Thunderbirds to just 33 second half points. In fact, the Thunderbirds scored more in second quarter than they did the third and fourth quarters combined. There was a stark difference in Utah’s defense the second half.

Tonight, Albuquerque showed early that they had no interested in a repeat of their last performance. They started off quickly with a 9 – 0 lead, all from their perimeter oriented center, Kevin Pittsnogle, however, defensively the Thunderbirds immediately shut down what hurt them the previous game. Whereas Utah’s center, Luke Nevill gave Albuquerque fits early and often in the game on New Years Eve, the Thunderbirds gave Nevill nothing easy tonight, causing Nevill to miss his first 6 shot attempts. It wasn’t until there was just 1:30 left in the first half when a sweet alley oop pass from Carlos Wheeler finally gave Nevill his first bucket. The Flash’s second quarter point production was aided by 4 of 4 shooting from the arc.

Just as the Flash started slowly to begin the game, they had a slow start to begin the second half as well. The Flash scored just 18 points in the 3rd quarter, and were out rebounded 11 to 6 in the quarter. What is interesting about the rebounding disparity as that rebounding was actually even for the first half of the third quarter, but then the Flash just totally lost interest in grabbing boards, and seemed content with “one and done” trips down the floor.

The Flash gave a big effort in the closing minutes of the game and nearly pulled it off. In fact, this was a thrilling, 1-point game with just 18.7 seconds to play, but Albuquerque’s precision at the free throw line just wouldn’t let the Flash’s desperate efforts prevail.

The Utah Flash played hard, but Albuquerque played smart. Well, except for Albuquerque’s 19 turnovers, they played smart.

The free throws statistics provide a big hint as to what the key to victory was for the Albuquerque Thunderbirds.

For starters, Albuquerque scored 24 points from the free throw line. The game was actually well officiated. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing officials Haywoode Workman (#56), Deldre Carr (#24) and Greg Danridge (#38) a bit more often, and some of the other guys a bit less. 😉 Interestingly, Albuquerque scored more points from the free throw line than the Flash, despite being called for more fouls than the Flash (22-18)… and the Flash’s 18 fouls are a bit deceptive since 6 of them came with less than 2 minutes left to go in the game as the Flash tried to stop the clock and eek out a win.

Albuquerque won tonight primarily because of their shot selection.

As I watched tonight’s game, I made a shot chart.

49 percent of the Utah Flash’s shot attempts came from the outside (between about 8 feet out and the 3-point arc).

19 percent of the Albuquerque Thunderbirds shots came from the outside.

What an astonishing difference in shot selection.

The Thunderbirds refused to settle for jump shots, consequently, they shot more high percentage shots and got to the free throw line for the highest percentage shots in basketball.

That’s just smart basketball.

By contrast, Utah launched 49 percent of their shots from outside, even though they were only shooting them at a 40 percent clip.

For more detail, here are the shooting percentages broken down:

Inside shooting:
Utah 26/35 for 74.3 percent, Albuquerque 27 of 40 for 67.5 percent

Outside shooting:
Utah 10/25 for 40 percent, Albuquerque 5/11 for 45.5 percent

3-point shooting:
Utah 5/16 for 31.3 percent, Albuquerque 7/17 for 41.2 percent

In my last blog, Smart Team Defense: The Bird’s Eye View, I mentioned that it has been statistically proven that the two most effective shots in the NBA are inside shots within 5 feet of the rim, and 3-pointers.

With that in mind, there are at least 2 lessons to be learned from tonight’s game:
(1) The Utah Flash needs to shoot less from the outside where shooting is less effective, and
(2) They need to defend the paint and the arc better and encourage opponents to shoot more midrange and outside shots.

The Flash have the personnel to make these adjustments. First, the Flash has the third best 3-point shooter in the NBA Development League: Andre Ingram, and other effective 3-point shooters such as Lee Cummard, Jordan Brady, and Dontell Jefferson. Second, the Flash have 7 foot 2 inch Luke Nevill, who can be both a defensive force, and an offensive weapon when focused to be so, and the Flash has several other great athletes with size enough to help inside.

Again, the Utah Flash played hard tonight and it was a blast to cheer them on. Hopefully they will learn from this loss as Albuquerque learned from theirs, and take that advantage with them into upcoming games.

Cheers!

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