It seems a flighty, fickle thing, the psyche of playoff basketball.
And don’t the Jazz feel it.
But, in reality, the mental is tied to the physical, the psychology to the physiology.
After consecutive blowout losses to the Rockets, the kind of ass-kickings, to use Rudy Gobert’s words, that make people wonder what the hell’s the matter with these guys, there’s been a lot of introspection, and ultimately blame, from and among the Jazz aimed squarely at themselves regarding matters of the mind, the singling out of a collective deficiency caroming around inside their own heads.
In the lengthy downtime between and after the first two playoff games, the sorry images that come by way of film study and attempts to correct what’s gone wrong, those regretful displays beamed back up an burned into the big screens in the Jazz’s brains, can hurt as much as help.
There’s been almost too much time to think and rethink their troubles.
“You just want to go out there and play again,” Joe Ingles says. “Try to play better.”
In a way, the Jazz are lying to themselves — because they have to.
Ricky Rubio says the Jazz have lacked confidence, that they haven’t been in this playoff series the team that they really are, that they haven’t bought in at 100 percent, that they haven’t competed the way they are capable of doing.
Quin Snyder says the Jazz must play with more focus, more force, implying that if they do, well … happy day.
But these are not happy days.
This is a time of truth, and the truth is hard — and plain to see:
The Rockets are better than the Jazz. They have better players. They have more firepower, and there’s nothing at this point the Jazz can do to change that.
So, what do the Jazz do?
They talk about regaining their intensity, their confidence, about playing smarter and with more oomph, about buying in, about competing, about being who they really are.
But what if, in a playoff setting, matched against a talented opponent that is fully operational and motivated, this is who the Jazz really are?
This is them.
Then, the Jazz emphasize the mental side, not the physical, they talk about the things they might be able to control and correct because the only alternative would be to come right out and say, “Yep, we aren’t as good as this team. We can’t hang with them. Let’s book our flights to the Caribbean and get this over with.”
Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “[Sports] is 90 percent mental, the other half is physical.”
Well. Berra never had to cover James Harden on a dribble drive or a step-back 3.
Derrick Favors says not to worry about nothing, all those deep shots the Jazz are missing will start to drop, especially now as the series moves to Vivint Arena. Ingles, in so many words, agrees: “We got so many good looks in that second game.”
Looks that flew everywhere but in.
“If you get that shot, you have to shoot it confidently,” he says.
Which brings us back to what’s banging around inside the Jazz’s collective head.
They can play with more assuredness. They can execute better. They can be smarter with the ball.
But it has become evident through the years that in the NBA playoffs, or in high-stakes competitions of any kind, the physical aspects are directly tied to the mental, that when an inferior team is matched against a superior one, the former often presses, often short-circuits, often plays beneath itself. Not always, but often.
That’s what has occurred so far in this series. That much was clear in the opening minutes of Game 2, when the Jazz couldn’t get out of their own way. In the face of a team that had beaten them by 32 points a few nights before, they started beating themselves.
“After that start, we were a lot better,” Ingles says.
Which is a little like saying the Jin Dynasty rallied hard after Genghis Khan destroyed their capital city and conquered their lands.
“We thought we were ready to go,” Joe says.
They were not.
Maybe the Jazz actually will play better at home. Maybe they will rally a bit. They couldn’t play much worse. They are a respectable team, a good one, not a great one, not a bad one.
Ingles is right about this: “If we think we’re done, we will be done.”
No reason to allow themselves to think that, even if it’s true.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.