Much as the Utah Jazz may believe they shouldn’t be here, much as they may be frustrated that they let it get here, the fact remains that they are here, and now they have to do something about it.
Game 7. For all the marbles. Win or go home.
And as much as they would like to be able to see their families and sleep in their own beds, as much as they’d love to leave behind the restrictions of the NBA bubble, the Jazz made it very apparent following Monday’s practice that going home after Tuesday night’s first-round finale is not what they have in mind.
“We came here for a reason, and we didn’t come here to be here for a month and a half, away from our families, just to go home [early],” said point guard Mike Conley. “We want to ride this thing all the way out.”
Now, all they have to figure out is how to get back on the right side of the ledger against the Denver Nuggets.
Utah’s three straight victories in the series, its 3-1 advantage, now seem forever ago, undone by a Game 5 come-apart and a shambolic performance in Sunday’s Game 6 defeat. Jamal Murray continues to torch the Jazz at every opportunity, the offense has begun to stagnate with a lack of ball movement, the hustle plays are no longer going their way.
What makes them think they can turn it around now?
Well, first off comes figuring out what’s gone wrong and how best to make it right again. And fortunately, in the eyes of coach Quin Snyder, it’s primarily an accumulation of compounding little things he believes are easily remedied.
“There’s things that we were doing a few games ago, some simple things — whether it be spacing, being shifted defensively, the edge that we had — during the middle of the series, really even in Game 1, we got better at those things. And I think we relaxed our focus a little bit,” Snyder said. “Some of the really, what you’d refer to as fundamental things — getting back better in transition — those are the things that … we just need to do them better and do more consistently.”
Secondly, there’s been a sense of ownership, of taking responsibility, of feeling compelled to speak up to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
After dropping consecutive potential closeout games, the potential is there to unravel. But it hasn’t happened. Sure, there appeared to be some on-court bickering Sunday night as the game started to get away from them. And yes, Rudy Gobert kicked the hell out of a chair right after a blown switch led to Nuggets center Nikola Jokic accidentally being left wide-open for a 3-point look that he buried.
But then Gobert followed up with a tete-a-tete figuring out what went wrong, and what should have happened instead.
Joe Ingles said that while the whole team ultimately looks to Gobert and Donovan Mitchell as team leaders, the fact remains that it’s all-hands-on-deck time now.
“Since I’ve been here for six years or whatever it’s been, we’ve all taken responsibility at different times. We’ve got an unbelievable group that takes criticism, can give it out, and we all we all speak on that,” Ingles said. “So as much as we know Donovan and Rudy are our main guys, the leaders of our team, Donovan’s asked us just as many questions as we ask him. And same with Rudy. And likewise, Mike’s been in the league for 30 years — we’ve got guys that have experience.
“We all take responsibility to be leaders at different times. I think we all see the game a little bit differently at times,” he added. “And anything we can [say to] help, no one ever takes it personally. It’s not trying to have a stab at someone —you’re obviously trying to game or make that person better.”
Mitchell said after Game 6 that he didn’t anticipate watching much film on Monday, that everyone already knew what they needed to do, and now it was simply a matter of who will go out and execute.
Conley agreed, noting that there’s been slippage lately, and that the Jazz should be in good shape provided they redouble their efforts.
“There’s small details here and there throughout that, in Game 1, 2, 3, 4, we were taking care of and we’re doing it at a 90% clip, and now we’ve dropped to 80 to 70 to 50 as the games went on, maybe thinking that it was just gonna happen,” he said.
Now, at long last, they apparently realize that nothing is just going to happen — it’s up to them to make it happen.
They’ve thrown a million unsuccessful different looks at Murray? Time to make it a million and one, Ingles said. The ball’s been sticking as players have increasingly hunted isolation matchups, as Conley pointed out? “Unquestionably, when we’re moving the ball, we’re a better team,” Snyder replied.
The coach says all the time that he wants his players to be instinctual; they especially need to do that now: “I’d like for us to make quicker decisions. Shoot it, move it, pass it, drive it — everything has to be done quickly or the defense catches up with you.”
So yeah, there’s a lot to do Tuesday night. There didn’t need to be, but they can’t worry about that anymore.
All the Jazz’s traveling contingent will ultimately be happy when they get to return home. But they’re not ready to leave just yet.
“We’ve had two games already to have an opportunity to try to advance, and now we’re giving ourself this last chance. And we’re going to try to take advantage of it as best we can,” Conley said. “I know guys are anxious and eager to get to our next game and try to rewrite what we’ve done. They outworked us the last few games, and have played with more urgency. So now we’re the team that has got to show how urgent we are.
“… We’re not planning on going home. That’s not what we came here to do.”
Best-of-seven series tied 3-3
Game 1 • Nuggets 135, Jazz 125 (OT)
Game 2 • Jazz 124, Nuggets 105
Game 3 • Jazz 124, Nuggets 87
Game 4 • Jazz 129, Nuggets 127
Game 5 • Nuggets 117, Jazz 107
Game 6 • Nuggets 119, Jazz 107
Game 7 • Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. MDT, ABC