Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 121-94 loss to the Indiana Pacers from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Defense that doesn’t even feel like it’s there
At times, it really feels as if the Jazz are just going through the defensive motions this year. There are so many times where they’re sort of in the right place defensively, but just aren’t really anywhere near impacting the play in any significant way.
Like this. Darren Collison led the whole entire NBA in 3-point shooting last year (46.8 percent). Dante Exum sort of closes out to him standing open in the corner, but Collison can’t help but notice that Exum is still standing five feet away from him, and just takes and makes the three anyway.
“When I feel good, I can hit threes too,” Rudy Gobert said. “We have to make things hard from the beginning. If we want a team to struggle against us, we don’t want them to play with confidence.” Instead, the Jazz just made things easy from the get go.
But it’s not like they got wildly better throughout the game, either. Here’s Joe Ingles just getting beaten by Doug McDermott on a straight line cut. No screen, no misdirection really, just Doug McDermott (not the world’s quickest player) beating him to the basket for a dunk.
And when the Jazz did get a body in front of someone, they didn’t really feel it. Thaddeus Young is a big player, so it makes sense he can back down Jae Crowder. Gobert comes over to help, even. But neither player even really gets a hand up on this little easy hook shot.
I’ll say it: there are games where this team is soft. When you’re letting teams get easy baskets, when you get punched in the mouth early and don’t respond, when you’re getting beat to loose balls due to hustle and effort, what else is there to call it?
2. Loose balls and rebounding
The NBA tracks loose balls and how many each team comes up with. The margin in tonight’s game was less dramatic than I thought it would be, but out of 15 loose balls, the Pacers came up with nine, the Jazz came up with six.
Out of those six, though, Ricky Rubio (who had a tremendous game and deserved better than what he got from his teammates) had five of them. Derrick Favors was the only other player who got one. There were plays like this, where Gobert had a chance to catch the ball, then doesn’t, and then gets beaten to the ground for the loose ball:
You know, I’m probably okay with that. Over the course of a 82-game season, I probably don’t want my lanky best player diving for loose balls, it might not be worth the injury. It still scares me when Gobert finds his way to the ground with bodies around him.
But I’m also significantly concerned by the team’s effort on more normal defensive rebounds. Nobody gets a body on Domantas Sabonis here, and this is a stock standard situation where Crowder or Alec Burks should know that Sabonis is coming down the paint.
All in all, the Pacers took 19 more shots than the Jazz did, and it’s just nearly impossible to win a game when that happens. The Jazz might have lost anyway if they had shot equality, after all, they lost by 27. But they would have at least had a chance.
3. 12-game road trip?
It’s really easy to say “oh, well, it was the last game of a 5-game road trip, of course they were second to 50/50 balls.”
But I saw the way the Jazz played on Saturday night against Boston, when they were on the second night of a back to back, and I know they can play well when tired, if they set their mind to it. Fatigue is real and legitimate, but it doesn’t explain losing by 27 to a team playing without its star.
And in fact, a lot of the trademark issues with fatigue weren’t there tonight. The Jazz didn’t miss a lot of their jump shots short, in fact, they shot 44 percent from 3, which is certainly above average. They didn’t start well and then fade down the stretch, they came out with no energy whatsoever. They’re completely and totally healthy — seemingly a first for this Jazz roster! — and yet their bench has been a huge source of the problem: Royce O’Neale was -25 in only 14 minutes tonight, for example.
It’s frustrating, because fatigue actually will be an issue coming up. The Jazz are regarding this as a 12-game road trip, essentially. Yes, they played five in a row on the road, but they only return home for one game before heading out West for two more this weekend. Next Monday, the Pacers play a rematch against the Jazz at Vivint Arena, but then they fly out east to play Brooklyn, Charlotte, and Miami. They don’t play two games at home in a row until after that.
No, the problem with this Jazz team right now is their mentality. Good games seem to send them to a place of contentment, satisfied that they’ve solved all issues. Bad games seem to wake them up to bring something nearer to their best effort.
Like tonight, when Quin Snyder called two timeouts early, he was trying to wake them up out of that slumber. It didn’t work, and he was to the point with criticizing his team after the game.
“At some point, timeouts won’t fix anything. We know what we need to do: we need to have more urgency, more mental toughness," Snyder said.
I’ll say this: the Jazz’s players are at least saying the right things in the locker room after these losses. They say fatigue isn’t an excuse, that they can’t be blown out (see Jae Crowder’s quote after the game), that they need to turn things around through bringing that extra energy. I don’t think we’re at risk of losing this team in the locker room. But they haven’t brought the effort or energy consistently so far, and locker room chaos isn’t the only way to get sub-standard effort on a night-to-night basis.
So yes, the Jazz will lack the comfort of a long stretch at home for the short-term future. Maybe right now, comfort is the last thing this team needs.