The Jazz’s locker room looked like a scene out of an old Road Runner cartoon on Monday night, after the team had an anvil dropped on its head from high above by the Memphis Grizzlies, or maybe the Jazz dropped it on themselves.
In this episode, Utah did something it was not supposed to do — it ran straight into a tunnel that turned out not to be a tunnel at all, just one painted on the side of a big boulder, complete with a dust cloud churning up around it upon contact and stars circling the rising lump on its noggin. It lost to an outfit nowhere near as talented as it is.
But — clank and thud — lose it did.
The only difference here was, nobody found any humor in it. Nobody was laughing. Nobody was much of anything, other than … absent. A few players scurried through, here and there. But the place seemed dead and deserted, as empty as a drawn Southwestern landscape.
And smack dab in the middle of so much deadness was a sense that something was out of order. Something was wrong. It’s one thing to lose by one point to the Golden State Warriors in a thrilling, rousing game. It’s another to suffer a follow-up collapse on your home floor to a team that has no business giving you the business.
The evidence left behind is a first-week record of 1-2, which few expected, certainly not the players themselves. Over the last few months of last season, the Jazz lost a total of six games, while winning 29. It felt totally different than … this. Back then, the Jazz were the ones swinging the Acme frying pan into the faces of everybody else.
So, into that postgame solemnity and sulk-fest and silence and solitude walked the Jazz’s supreme leader, Rudy Gobert.
While disappointed by the performance, the what of which earlier had been patiently explained by Quin Snyder — bad reads, bad disconnections, bad shots at the offensive end — and the why of which only Sigmund Freud could clear up, Gobert calmly said, in so many words:
Don’t panic. Daddy’s home. Everything’s gonna be all right.
He started with the good news and then addressed the bad.
“We definitely got better defensively than the first two games,” he said. “That’s one good thing about tonight. Everyone was locked in defensively, everyone played hard. We just have to figure out a way to play basketball offensively. They got physical and we started thinking too much when the shots didn’t go in. We’ve just got to keep trusting each other, keep playing as a team.”
The problem against the Grizzlies was that they didn’t trust each other, did not play as a team.
They forced shots. They took the ball to places they should not have taken it. The structure of the attack broke down when the ball didn’t move. All told, the Jazz lost to an opponent that shot just 36 percent from the floor, 32 percent from deep, a team which they out-rebounded by the count of 50 to 43.
For their part, the Jazz shot 35 percent, 25 from beyond the arc. Only three players scored in double-digits — Jae Crowder with 15 points on 4-for-7 shooting, Donovan Mitchell with 14 points on 6-for-17 shooting, 1-for-7 on 3-pointers, and Gobert, who got 11 points, along with 12 boards.
Ricky Rubio made only 1 of 8 shots, Joe Ingles 4 of 13, Derrick Favors 3 of 11, and Dante Exum 2 of 11.
“We just didn’t have any efficiency offensively,” Snyder said.
Said Rubio: “We didn’t have the rhythm. … We have to play more as a team.”
So we heard.
That’s pretty much where the Jazz lived over the back half of last season. Through the first three games of this one, for all the talk of familiarity and its advantages, the Jazz have too often played as strangers in a strange land. The exception to that was in the initial half against the Warriors, when the Jazz scored nearly as many points as they did the entire game on Monday night. The subsequent half against Golden State, though, was considerably less tethered on attack. There was a lot of one-on-one action.
Which is to say, the Jazz’s efforts through three games have been the equivalent of a melon sliced into two halves and slammed back together again significantly off-center. They play offense, they play defense, but they play neither at the same time.
“We haven’t put together a full game, yet,” Donovan Mitchell said. “We’ve got to pick it up.”
Now, as the Jazz hurtle toward a road game against the Houston Rockets, would be a good time.
Asked if the Jazz are together as a group, in mind and purpose, Gobert said: “Definitely. We have the next game. We have a big road trip coming up, so we have to watch the tape and see what we did good and improve what we didn’t do so good.”
He added: “We’ve got to trust each other and we’ll be fine. … It’s going to come. We have guys who care. I can feel it.”
Nobody panic, then. No big thing. Nothing is wrong that can’t be fixed.
Rudy Gobert can feel it.
That’s precisely what he said last season, when the Jazz had stumbled for months, trying to hand off bundles of dynamite, only to have them explode in their own hands, right before they spun the thing around as dramatically as any NBA team ever had.
“It’s going to come,” he said in the dead of Monday night’s locker room. “I’m confident.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.