Derrick Favors didn’t necessarily look at his best during the 2020-21 regular season.
There were times when Favors seemed like he was struggling to get elevated above the rim, or was struggling to run the floor in the Jazz’s new, transition-oriented offense. He played a smaller role than ever before in his career, and the comparison between him and teammate Rudy Gobert has never been more stark — the Jazz were nearly 12 points better per 100 possessions with Gobert on the floor than Favors this season.
One loss to the Warriors in March may have been the nadir. In 16 minutes with Favors on the floor, the Jazz were outscored by 24 points, and the Jazz lost a winnable game. Given Favors’ status and tenure with the team (this is his 10th Jazz season) and his relatively young age (he’s still just 29!), the questions asked after the game weren’t about his role, or his lack of contribution. Instead, they were about his well-being:
Is Derrick OK? Is he playing at 100%?
Fast-forward to Sunday’s Game 1, and Favors was one of the only bright spots in the Jazz’s playoff-opening loss to the Grizzlies. He looked fluid in his movements — springy even. A third quarter dunk showed the best of what Favors could be: he collected a low pass from Mike Conley, dribbled it up into his hands, then exploded through traffic for a finish.
Favors finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds in his 23 minutes on the floor; it was his third-highest minutes total of the season because of Gobert’s foul trouble. And Favors’ defense shone too, perhaps not as highly as Gobert’s, but Favors’ four blocks kept the Jazz in striking distance.
“[Favors] gave us a chance. He brought us back into this game. That’s why we brought him back. He’s a great player and a huge part of our team and we didn’t get the win tonight, but there’s going to be some nights when Fav wins us some games,” Gobert said.
The questions of Favors’ health earlier in the season never were really satisfyingly answered — he could be seen wearing heating pads on his back during player introductions, and would frequently keep moving on the Jazz’s exercise bike during his stints on the bench. He missed a game due to knee soreness, which he downplayed in interviews.
But regardless, his performance in Game 1 showed what he can be capable of at his best — a burst of energy off the bench for a team that desperately needed it.
“This is the playoffs, and once the playoffs come around, you pick up the intensity, you pick up your level of play, you just go out there to try to make an impact. And that’s what I did,” Favors said. “I just thought the team needed a boost of energy just to get going.”
Favors didn’t have a lot of company as a physical force in Game 1. Despite playing an elimination game just 48 hours before against the Golden State Warriors, the Grizzlies were the more physical presence, garnering 17 offensive rebounds and stifling the Jazz’s execution.
“We’re capable of executing at a high level, but we have to do it at a consistent level. We just didn’t do that in the first game and come with the same intensity as they did,” Jazz guard Mike Conley said on Tuesday. “They played a lot hungrier than we did.”
They’ll need to turn that around in Game 2; though they have a good excuse — Favors acknowledged that some of the circumstances of Game 1 hurt their overall play. Donovan Mitchell’s surprise absence, and the controversy surrounding it, caught the team off-guard; after all, they had prepared for his ability to play in the game. Without him, they looked lost at times.
“I think going into Game 2, everybody will be a little bit more clearheaded, be a little bit more focused, and we’ll just come out ready to play,” Favors said.
While his teammates need to raise their level in Game 2, if Favors played just as he did in Game 1, the Jazz would certainly be thrilled.