There’s been so much talk in the days following the Jazz’s second straight blowout defeat at the hands of the Rockets about the team’s mentality.
The need to come out with an attitude of toughness, of aggressiveness, of physicality, of urgency, et cetera, et cetera.
At Saturday morning’s shootaround at Zions Bank Basketball Campus, Ricky Rubio had a different mentality in mind. About 10 hours before the start of Game 3, the point guard said one of the big differences in the series is that Houston’s players already have a contender-level attitude, while the Jazz are still trying to figure out how to get there.
“[The Rockets] have the mentality to win a championship. And you can tell. You can tell the way they’re playing, you can tell the way they approach every play. They’re not focusing just on this series; they’re focusing on the moment, but for bigger things” Rubio said. “And that’s the thing that we have to learn — we have to watch them play, and then learn it.”
Part of it, he explained, stems from Houston coming so close to reaching the NBA Finals a year ago, before a Chris Paul injury and a disastrous shooting stretch against the Golden State Warriors doomed their chances.
This Utah team, he acknowledged, hasn’t quite felt that level of sting because these players haven’t made it that far, though they’re certainly feeling the sting now of a 2-0 deficit in their first-round series.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder agreed with his point guard, noting that the Rockets’ mentality has been almost tangible, manifesting itself particularly in the lopsided starts to the two games.
“It means a focus and aggressiveness on every possession. I think you’ve seen that [from the Rockets], particularly at the beginning of the game. It’s notable in that moment, as you start,” he said. “And that’s been something that I think our team has had over the course of the year, and it’s something I know we’re capable of doing. I think that’s why Ricky noticed it, is ’cause it’s something that he values and we value. And that aggressiveness is something we need to bring as well.”
Rubio seemed to obliquely reference the criticism of the two subpar playoff games tangentially being tied to bringing back so much of last season’s roster and reliant primarily upon internal development seemed to amount to settling, to tacitly accepting their place in the pecking order, to illustrate contentment with the status quo.
He’s hoping that a better showing in Game 3 will put those ideas to bed.
“[Houston] is a championship team. They went to Game 7 last year in the Western Conference finals, and you can tell they want more. Us, we went to the second round, and it seems like we’re cool. No — we want more. I know. And I trust all my teammates, I trust myself too,” Rubio said. “Sometimes when you’re fatigued, you’ve gotta believe in what you’re doing. And we’ve put a lot of work in this season just to come to this moment and show what we’re capable of doing. We haven’t shown it the first two games, but I’m sure we will do it."