Despite recent trend of losing big leads, Jazz say they don’t have a killer instinct problem

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) gets pushed over by New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) as the Utah Jazz host the New Orleans Pelicans in their NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Sat. Nov. 23, 2019.

There was a lot of nervous energy in Vivint Smart Home Arena this weekend, as Jazz fans saw a pair of 20-plus-point leads whittled all the way down to two in the waning minutes on both Friday and Saturday night.

The team’s inability to, as the saying goes, step on their foe’s throat and put them away, left many wondering if the Jazz lack a killer instinct.

Coach Quin Snyder, for what’s it worth, does not share that particular concern.

“I will say, I don’t think that’s been characteristic of our team,” Snyder said before Saturday’s victory over the Pelicans.

After that game, when his team had let a 20-point advantage in the third quarter dwindle to the point that New Orleans had some late opportunities to tie the game or take the lead, the question resurfaced.


Ten of the Jazz’s 16 games thus far have seen them relinquish most or all of leads of at least seven points:

Nov. 23, vs Pelicans • Led by 20 in 3Q; Pelicans rallied within 2 in 4Q

Nov. 22, vs. Warriors • Led by 21 in 4Q; Warriors rallied within 2 in 4Q

Nov. 20, vs. Wolves • Led by 8 in 3Q; Wolves rally to lead by 6 in 4Q

Nov. 18, vs. Wolves • Led by 7 in 1Q; Wolves rally to lead by 7 in 2Q; led by 6 in 4Q; Wolves rally to lead by 13 in 4Q, win by 10

Nov. 15, vs. Grizzlies • Led by 9 in 1Q; Grizzlies rally to lead by 11 in 2Q, win by 1

Nov. 8, vs. Bucks • Led by 22 in 2Q; Bucks rally to lead by 1 in 4Q

Nov. 3, vs. Clippers • Led by 10 in 3Q; Clippers rally to win by 11

Oct. 30, vs. Clippers • Led by 14 in 2Q; Clippers rallied to lead by 3 in 3Q

Oct. 28, vs. Suns • Led by 9 in 3Q; Suns rallied to lead by 7 in 4Q

Oct. 23, vs. Thunder • Led by 13 in 1Q; Thunder rallied to lead by 8 in 4Q

There were, of course, significant differences in the circumstances between the Pelicans’ comeback and what occurred the night before in a sloppy win against the Warriors.

While both opponents were short-handed against the Jazz, Utah was also short-handed vs. New Orleans, with Rudy Gobert out due to a sprained left ankle. Beyond that, his replacement — Tony Bradley — played just under 22 minutes on account of racking up five fouls. Meanwhile, after the starters had to play extra minutes the night before to fend off the Warriors, their legs grew tired in the second half against New Orleans.

Because of that, not to mention the way the Pellies played down the stretch, Snyder wasn’t terribly concerned about that finish.

“This was a great win. I guess what I’m saying — am I concerned if we build up leads and lose them? Absolutely. But tonight, I think, we built up a lead making shots and playing well, and then the second half, we were a little tired, but I still think we played well, and I think New Orleans made a lot of shots and that carved into the lead,” he said. “Tonight, it was more about what they were doing. … I think they played well to come back, let me put it that way.”

That said, he acknowledges that wasn’t the case the night before against Golden State: “[Friday] night was very different than the situation [Saturday].”

In that one, they were playing a Warriors team absolutely decimated by injuries (they were without Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, D’Angelo Russell, Kevon Looney, Jacob Evans, Damion Lee and Allen Smailagic), led by as many as 21 in the fourth quarter, seemed to let up, and saw Golden State rally almost all the way back.

Donovan Mitchell said the silver lining to that finish was that it let the Jazz know they needed to start strong vs. the Pelicans, as they anticipated fading a bit down the stretch.

“To be completely honest, the biggest thing we took away from [the Warriors game] was just being able to come out with a hot start,” Mitchell said. “Obviously, in a back-to-back, you get a little fatigued; in the second half, they started making shots. But for us to withstand what they did, without Rudy, says a lot.”

Still, while there were no excuses made for the effort vs. Golden State, neither was there too much panic deriving from it.

“I think that group that came back in and finished the [Warriors] game, we turned it over three times in a row and did some stuff that we’ve been pretty good [at avoiding] with those guys,” Snyder said. “I don’t have a perfect explanation for you. Sometimes that’s human nature. Our team’s been pretty consistent with how we’ve competed, particularly that group. And I think the results have shown it.”

Well, yes and no.

While the Jazz have, indeed, typically prevailed in games in which they’ve amassed significant leads, they’ve also made many of them harder-fought than necessary.

Ten of Utah’s 16 games thus far have seen it relinquish most or all of leads of at least seven points. And five of those games have featured a double-digit advantage either largely or completely evaporating.

It’s been particularly noticeable of late.

In the team’s Nov. 15 loss in Memphis, the Jazz led by nine in the first quarter, and just minutes later, the Grizzlies were up by 11 in the second. On Nov. 18 vs. Minnesota, a seven-point lead in the first swung to a seven-point deficit in the second; and a six-point advantage in the fourth quickly became a 13-point hole, as a late 23-4 run resulted in an eventual loss. In the rematch against the Wolves two days later, an eight-point lead in the third became a six-point deficit in the fourth before the Jazz themselves rallied down the stretch.

Then came the Warriors and Pelicans games. So, do those games represent a troubling trend?

Snyder again concedes that an inability to at least hold those leads, or, preferably, to build upon them, is suboptimal, he reiterated that, in most of those cases, there have been problems other than effort or letting up at play.

“Anytime you get a team that lets up, and the other team doesn’t let up, you’re not gonna like the result, whatever the specifics are,” he said. “… We’ve had some issues when we’ve got ahead, but it’s generally been different parts of the game.”


At Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee

Tipoff • Monday, 6 p.m. MT


Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM

Records • Jazz 11-5; Bucks 13-3

Last meeting • Jazz, 103-100 (Nov. 8)

About the Jazz • Utah has won three straight games, picking up a road victory in Minnesota, and home wins over the Warriors and Pelicans. … In the teams’ last matchup, Bojan Bogdanovic nailed a game-winning 3-pointer at the final buzzer. … Center Rudy Gobert (sprained ankle) is questionable for the game. … This is the first game of the team’s season-long five game road trip.

About the Bucks • Milwaukee is second in the NBA in points (119.8), first in rebounds (51.9), third in blocks (6.3), and fourth in FG% (47.5). … Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is third in the league in scoring (29.9) and fourth in rebounding (13.9). … The Bucks have won seven straight games overall, and are 5-1 at home.

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