Jazz ‘fall back into our demons’ in 104-90 loss to the Thunder

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) warms up before the start of their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Mon. Dec. 9, 2019.

Before Monday night’s Jazz-Thunder game at Vivint SmartHome Arena, OKC coach Billy Donovan spoke eloquently about the challenges of building chemistry on a team featuring myriad new players, ultimately concluding, “As much as coaches, as players just want to expedite that process, sometimes you just have to deal with the pains of going through some of that stuff.”

The new-look Jazz certainly came away from the matchup hurting a little more.

Utah’s inability to generate any easy offense, compounded by a failure to routinely convert the open looks they did get, on top of the defense routinely getting carved up by dribble penetration all added up to a 104-90 loss to the Thunder.

And just like that, all the good vibes they had from ending their three-game losing streak Saturday vs. Memphis were obliterated to rubble by another listless performance.

“It’s kinda like a ‘Here we go again’ situation,” Donovan Mitchell said afterward.

“We do it for one game and then we go back to doing the same stuff,” added Rudy Gobert. “… We just forget about what’s important and we fall back into our demons.”

They aren’t wrong.

After hanging around for the first two quarters, the wheels completely came off in the third, when Oklahoma City outscored the Jazz 34-21. Utah shot 7 of 23 in the pivotal 12-minute stretch, while a Thunder team on the latter end of a back-to-back set and missing two starters took control with an 11-of-21 shooting exhibition.

Just like that, Utah’s four-point halftime deficit had ballooned to 17, and that was pretty much that.

Mitchell finished with 26 points and six rebounds (but shot just 10 for 25), and Gobert threw in a hyper-efficient double-double, hitting 9 of 10 shots in totaling 19 points and 17 rebounds, but at no point did the sluggish Jazz approximate the uptempo, 3-point-blitzing offensive juggernaut they claimed to aspire to be following their roster makeover this summer.

And in spite of all those changes, Utah finds itself off to another slow start to a season, much to Mitchell’s dismay.

“We can’t rely on that, like, ‘Oh, we’ve been here before.’ It only feels different because y’all just gave us expectations because of who we have and who we brought in,” he said. “A lot of it is we just gotta put the work in. We said that in the beginning. The good thing is we’re not 19-27, but we’re 13-11, and we’ve gotta figure out at some point we can’t just sit here and say, ‘It’s a long season.’”

If it feels in some ways like it’s already been a long season, perhaps that’s because the same old issues continue to remain problematic.

For starters, any chance at capitalizing on some decent shooting in the opening quarter and building a lead was negated by the half-dozen turnovers the Jazz coughed up in the quarter. The Thunder generated a 19-6 advantage in points off turnovers for the game.

Then there was the bench. While Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay had brilliant efforts in Saturday’s win against Memphis, Utah’s second unit was a nonfactor vs. OKC, as the Thunder’s bench racked up 45 points to the Jazz’s 23. High-scoring sixth man Dennis Schroder outscored Utah’s second unit all by himself, pouting in 27 points, including a dozen in that pivotal third period.

The specter of “communication” was invoked again as well postgame.

“When we were on the same page, we know what we’re running and we can run it with precision and force, and get downhill and make plays and, obviously being an unselfish team, when we are connected like that, we are really good,” said Joe Ingles. “There’s obviously been a few too many times this year when we haven’t been as connected.”

A lack of physicality was brought up again, as well.

“Every team is being physical with us, because they watch the game. Teams that watch tonight, they’re gonna see that every time someone’s physical with us, they just take us out of what we want to do, and keep doing it,” said Gobert. “It’s on us to be tougher — mentally and physically.”

Between all of that, plus the Jazz making only 8 of 31 attempts from beyond the arc on Monday, and normally reliable weapon Bojan Bogdanovic struggling to one of his worst performances as a Jazz player (13 points on 4-of-17 shooting), and yeah, it’s not hard to see how things went sideways.

The lack of progress was clearly wearing thin with some of the players afterward.

“We’ve been saying the same thing for a week and a half. We need a tougher mindset,” said Mitchell. “… We gotta find it. We gotta find it within ourselves.”

Gobert agreed, implying that the team was perhaps approaching a come-to-Jesus moment.

“We feel like we’re not playing the way we want to play, and we’re not the team that we can be. So it’s frustrating. All the other teams can see it, and they just come and go at us,” he said. “… We just gotta stick together. It’s gotta be communication — we gotta be honest with one another, and even if it’s hard, even if it’s sometimes a little harsh, we gotta do that. That’s the only way to move forward.”