The power of non-verbal communication was underscored by Quin Snyder’s expression the other night.
Here’s the setup:
It was a couple of hours before the Jazz were to play San Antonio and 22 hours after they had played the Thunder at Oklahoma City in the last game of a six-game road trip. Nothing quite says “Welcome home” like the tail end of a back-to-back against the Spurs.
Snyder was still in warm-up gear, over on a quiet side of a hallway through the inner bowels of Vivint Arena, not yet decked out in his usual stylish European-cut battle wear.
“Did you survive the roadie?” the coach was asked.
Did he survive the roadie.
He did. I mean, he was … breathing.
But the crease across his eyes, the tilt of his head, said in that moment what no longer needed to be said. He knew that I knew that he knew that I knew that his team had gone through hell and wasn’t quite back yet. It won’t be completely through hell and back until the New Year begins.
Accompanied with that expression, though, was a calmness, almost a certitude in the coach that … well, hell could go to hell. That the schedule the NBA had presented the Jazz in December, the degree of difficulty attached to it, what many have calculated to be the toughest stretch any team will face this season, would not do in or be the end of a young, still-forming group of players, some of whom might not fully have understood what had hit them.
Still, Snyder sensed no loss of confidence in his guys, no panic, no dissension, no spirits squashed, no minds closed.
“There’s nothing like that,” he said.
After winning six straight games, the Jazz had just endured a 1-7 span, starting with the Thunder and ending with the Thunder, both games on the road. Wedged in-between were two losses to the Rockets, one at home, one in Houston, losses at Milwaukee and Chicago, a glorious win at Boston, and a competitive road loss to the Cavs.
All of that was crammed into a two-week period, most of it spent flying from Salt Lake to the East Coast and the assorted points scattered along the route.
The reward for the Jazz was a nationally televised home date against another of the league’s elite teams, after having had their heads kicked in at Oklahoma City by a count as lopsided as a popped Spalding.
Snyder knew with exactness the challenge at hand, and his team’s progression toward handling it. Rudy Gobert was out with his hurt knee and Donovan Mitchell with his hurt toe. Derrick Favors looked like part of a marching/limping Revolutionary War fife-and-drum corps, with a bandage over his eye concealing a stitched wound. Raul Neto also was out, a nod to a concussion.
But Rodney Hood had arrived out of the infirmary, a blessing that in the hours to come would reveal itself when he went all Space-Jammy, scoring 29 points on shots in which he didn’t even have to look at the basket to scope in. And the net danced, again and again. Unconscious was his password.
So, the Jazz, without their two best players, beat the Spurs.
And kept breathing.
Snyder, in the pregame hallway, knew it was possible. If it didn’t happen, he would just teach on, and get gains that might only reveal themselves in the win column in subsequent weeks and months.
He knows December, this time around, belongs to basketball’s Beelzebub.
He knows that after the Jazz play the Thunder, again, on Saturday, they still have the Nuggets in Denver on Tuesday, the Golden State Warriors at Oracle in another back-to-back on Wednesday, and then LeBron and his Cavs, again, on Saturday at Vivint.
Which is to say, Hades’ hoop fires will keep scorching the Jazz straight through to year’s end. Whoever put this schedule together and laid it on Utah was either drunk, disrespectful or diabolical.
But then, there’s Snyder’s mostly calm, collected, cerebral approach.
The month raging behind and in front of his team has on a couple of occasions seared him around the edges, too. For the most part, though, he’s informed his team about the realities of what it is facing, encouraged it to keep competing, to learn, to stay focused and together, and to play on.
January looks more promising — from a scheduling standpoint, because Gobert is mending, Mitchell is growing, and on account of Snyder’s lessons penetrating through the outer layers. He gets it, that his team’s individual parts could have been damaged by this most unforgiving 50 miles of bad road.
He said he doesn’t believe that has happened.
The Jazz will take what they can from December, not having conquered, but at least having made it through the inferno. If any future foe or fan tells them to go to hell, they can inform them, thanks, they’ve already been there.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.