Indianapolis • Last season, the league-leading Utah defense was known for “defensive runs,” stretches of a game where they could simply snuff out the life of opposing teams through smothering length.
In 2018-19, there’s just so much room for the opposition to breathe.
The Jazz lost 121-94 on Monday night in Indianapolis, giving up open shot after open shot to a Pacers team that played without star guard Victor Oladipo due to a sore right knee.
The list of defensive issues for the Jazz couldn’t be longer.
First, the Pacers made 53 percent of their shots overall, including 12 of their 25 threes, thanks to subpar defensive efforts from nearly the entire roster. Utah would halfway contest shots, but come a step short of really bothering the Pacers’ shooters. Bojan Bogdanovic led the way with 21 points, but he had significant help from Domantas Sabonis and rookie Aaron Holiday, who both added 19 points.
“We’re there, but we’re not there,” Rudy Gobert said. “We have to do the extra step and take them out of their shots.”
And making matters worse for the Jazz, the team couldn’t figure out how to get loose balls, looking like they were stuck in mud. The Pacers had 11 offensive rebounds, while the Jazz had only three.
Oh, and if that wasn’t enough — and it would have been — turnovers killed the Jazz too. The Jazz turned the ball over 19 times, then didn’t get back on the defensive end; the Pacers scored 33 points off of those turnovers. Meanwhile, the Jazz never made life difficult enough for Indiana to turn the ball over; they had only nine turnovers (for 11 Jazz points).
The result was another blowout on this trip that has already seen the Jazz lose by 50. It’s enough that the Jazz’s veteran leaders feel they need to say something to their teammates.
“I just talked to the guys. I don’t want to overreact, it’s still early. But at the same time, you’re going to lose in this league, but you can’t keep getting your a** kicked like that,” Jae Crowder said. “That’s an a**-whupping, I feel like. It sends a message to the league. We need to be in every game, no matter who is on the court.”
Yes, it was the last game on a five-game trip. But their best defensive performance of the year came in Boston on Saturday, and they were playing on a back-to-back then. Against Indiana, the Jazz failed at bringing the effort even though they had the night before off.
“People can talk about fatigue, but I think it’s a mindset,” Gobert said. “We’re a tough-minded team, but we just have to show it. We can’t stop when it’s the last game of a road trip.”
One player who did step up was point guard Ricky Rubio, who had a sensational shooting night. Rubio scored 28 points on 10-for-13 shooting, including 5 of 6 from deep. Rubio also was the only Jazzman who seemed capable of beating an Indiana man to a loose ball: The Jazz recovered only six of the loose balls all night, with five of those from Rubio.
It meant that the Jazz outscored the Pacers by one while Rubio was in the game, but were outscored by 28 when Rubio wasn’t out there. Backup Dante Exum wasn’t alone in playing poorly off the bench — in fact, his five assists were a lone bright spot — but the second unit couldn’t figure out how to stop Indiana whatsoever.
Crowder ended up as Utah’s second-leading scorer, with 14 points, but Donovan Mitchell had only seven while taking eight shots.
The result pushed them to 2-3 on the 5-game road trip, though the Jazz look at it as the start of a longer “12-game trip,” given that they don’t play two consecutive games at home until Dec. 4. But no matter where they play over the next two weeks, they need to bring much more than they did against Indiana Monday night.
“We have to put it in our head that we have to come out ready every night,” Gobert said.
So far, the Jazz haven’t received that message.