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The Triple Team: Jazz defense isn’t good enough in collapse to Knicks — is this just who they are?

New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) dribbles the ball as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York, Wednesday, March 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Sarah Stier)

Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 112-100 loss to the New York Knicks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz get toasted inside early in second half

The Jazz allowed 43 shots for the Knicks within five feet of the basket tonight, per NBA.com. New York made 25 of them.

Both figures are way too many for a team that has Rudy Gobert. The whole point of Gobert is for teams to be prevented from getting the layups that they normally get down low, or if they are so unfoolish as to try them, that they’ll be largely unsuccessful. This has been a successful approach for the Jazz, even this season — see their wins against the Clippers, Spurs, and Blazers.

But the New York based teams were able to get inside repeatedly. And it’s a little bit hard to assign blame. Take this play for example. Who do you want to see more from?

Donovan Mitchell does a good job of staying with Austin Rivers... until he doesn’t. Eventually, though, Rivers just blows by him for the layup.

But hey, don’t the Jazz have a 2-time defensive player of the year lurking around there? Should he get involved in this play? I mean, Julius Randle is pretty far away from the action, and you might hope that Gobert could help and then recover if the ball were passed. Indeed, recovering is one of his greatest defensive skills. Instead, a shrug.

It’s interesting: I think the Jazz’s perimeter defenders have been highly guilty of over-helping this season. But Gobert has been guilty of under-helping — I think he’s a little too focused on the boxing-out part of his job right now. On the other hand, the Jazz desperately need Gobert to be a good rebounder, given that only Royce O’Neale is the only other consistent plus rebounder in the starting lineup.

It’s an easy screw to over-adjust, but I think it’s one Gobert can tighten up a bit to find a balance to be making a few more help plays at the rim.

2. Stopping a scoring guard with urgency

Last night, Kyrie Irving got going early; he was responsible for 24 of Brooklyn’s first 28 points in their opening salvo. Tonight, Austin Rivers turned a 50/50 contest into a Knicks win with 14 consecutive points to end the 4th quarter.

This, of course, is not the first time the Jazz have been unable to stop a scoring guard when the situation demanded it. Jamal Murray scored 50 points against the Jazz twice in seven games just a few months ago, in much more important situations. Every team has issues with the best scoring guards in the league, sure. But this sort of repeated problem, across multiple opponents and yet a limited number of games, is really discouraging.

Yesterday, we examined Royce O’Neale’s defense, and once again, he got cooked by the guard he was guarding. This time, I want to look at it less from a statistical perspective, and more from a focus perspective. This was a crazy play, to be sure, but at some point, O’Neale needs to find a man, and lock in on him. Who is he guarding over on the left side?

He was involved in this next play, but I don’t know who was ultimately responsible, O’Neale or Gobert. Either way, they absolutely blow a switch — first leaving Julius Randle wide open, and then the red-hot Rivers.

Rivers has now scored eight straight. So with the game on the line, O’Neale.... slowly spins under the screen, giving him 10 feet? And Gobert isn’t within spitting distance?

I’m not a huge believer in stopping the guy with the hot hand above all else, but at least consider defending the guy who’s shown he can score recently. Why the lack of urgency? Maybe consider doing more to stay attached?

These kind of lapses are just sort of inexplicable; they cost the Jazz another winnable game tonight.

3. “We are better than this.”

So today, a bunch of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building, broke in, and paraded around inside for a while. Four people died, a whole bunch of stuff was stolen, Confederate flags and nooses were displayed in our monuments, and generally, it was one of the most embarrassing scenes in American history.

Afterwards, there were a lot of statements given about The Events At The Capitol Today. One reliable phrase I heard often in these statements was some variation of “We are better than this,” perhaps most notably (for our local-interest purposes) by Utah governor Spencer Cox.

I disagree. America is not better than this. We’d like to be better than this, but in reality? This is who we are.

It’s a little bit like when the Jazz do something really embarrassing — like get out to a 23-5 start against Brooklyn, or lose an 18-point lead to the Knicks, or lose a 3-1 lead in the playoffs — and you hear from the team “that this isn’t who we are.” If it wasn’t, then why’d it happen? Everyone is the amalgamation of their strengths and their flaws. Among the Jazz’s flaws are these inexcusable lapses in effort. Among our country’s flaws are these inexcusable actions and actors.

I get it — no one wants to be defined by their worst moments. But as historic and embarrassing as Jan. 6 was, it also wasn’t surprising; not in the least. These people at the Capitol were riled up by incendiary lies about a “big steal,” then were told to show up on Jan. 6 and hold “trial by combat” by the President and his attorney. This isn’t an isolated incident, but the latest in a line of years of decisions, supported by millions, that have been really clearly building up to this.

Here’s an idea: instead of holding ourselves above the fray, let’s take a real introspective reckoning of our failures. The first step is admitting that America isn’t the superlative land of happiness and opportunity right now, and that actually, we’re performing disappointingly compared to our peers in many ways.

Then, once we’ve humbled ourselves a little bit, maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to assess our flaws and take action to fix them.

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