Lake Buena Vista, Fla. • Well, the Jazz did acknowledge after rallying back to beat the Pelicans on Thursday that there was still plenty to improve upon.
So from a certain point of view, Saturday’s 110-94 manhandling by the Oklahoma City Thunder is simply extra confirmation of that assessment.
Of course, such a rose-colored-glasses estimation was hardly realistic for anyone who watched Utah’s second seeding game, let alone anyone who actually participated in it.
Asked what specifically the Thunder did that the Jazz had trouble with, coach Quin Snyder quipped, “There’s a long list.
“More than anything, credit to Oklahoma City for the way that they defended,” he added. “They took us out of almost everything we were trying to do.”
Indeed, the Thunder’s aggressive perimeter defenders smothered Utah’s ballhandlers all game — up to and including running a full-court press deep into the fourth quarter, with the outcome long since decided.
Before that, though, OKC was preventing Utah from initiating the offense in a timely fashion, though the Jazz’s propensity for both over-dribbling and remaining too rooted to spots on the court really didn’t help, either.
Too many possessions were defined by Jordan Clarkson dribbling, being cut off, circling out, dribbling and driving again, and then eventually chucking a contested midrange attempt (he shot 4 for 17). Too many more saw Donovan Mitchell finally gain a step on his man, turn the corner and draw the defense, only to fire an off-target pass (he shot 5 for 15, and committed four turnovers).
The result was Utah shooting just 39.1% from the floor, and going only 8 of 31 from deep.
Mitchell noted that the Jazz did not handle OKC’s strength and tenacity well.
“They got physical, took us out of a lot of our actions. We’ve just got to do a better job of being able to handle their pressure,” he said. “Credit to them for being able to go out there and continue to force us into different looks everywhere.”
Snyder added that the Thunder ratcheting up the intensity resulted in the Jazz being too hesitant and tentative, an assessment that point guard Mike Conley agreed with.
“I think coach hit the nail on the head with us not making quicker decisions. When you’re playing a physical team like that, who’s overly aggressive, you have to be able to make quick decisions. That means when the ball’s in your hands, as soon as you take two dribbles, get off of it, make a play for somebody else, allow them to drive their man and start the blender up,” Conley said. “I think that we kind of settled the ball too long a couple times during possessions, and when we weren’t able to get anything offensively, it kind of trickled to our defensive end and kind of took the air from under us.”
True enough — it’s not as though the team’s problems were limited to just one end of the court.
A seemingly endless cycle of inexplicable and needless help rotations on OKC’s penetrators resulted in shooters on the wing being left open time after time after time.
While the Jazz eventually ratcheted up its defensive efficacy a bit after the break, they were undone by a first half that saw Oklahoma City shoot 64.9% from the field and go 7 of 14 from deep in building a 24-point lead.
And really, the Jazz didn’t slow the Thunder down sufficiently at any point to ever gain any real traction toward a legitimate comeback — cutting their deficit to 19 a minute into the fourth quarter was about as close as it got down the stretch before the meaningless final minutes.
“I felt at halftime that we had a lot of work to do,” Snyder said. “You have to try to take something away — we didn’t really take anything away.”
And so, it’s back to the drawing board — or, more accurately, the video room, trying not only to pinpoint what’s gone wrong, but hoping also they have the wherewithal to fix it.
“It’s a shortened season right now, and we need to take a step back and look at the things we need to do better,” Snyder said. “Some of those things, we know right now, but it’s an opportunity to really drive it home and see what we need to do to put ourselves in a better position. That wasn’t the case tonight.”