‘We can fix this’: Utah Jazz express optimism even as more lack of focus costs them a 112-100 loss to Knicks

After a strong start, the effort wanes after halftime, and the Jazz are dealt consecutive defeats in New York.

Remember that time all the way back on Tuesday night when the Utah Jazz bemoaned their lack of consistency of effort?

Wednesday night was not much of an indication that they’re capable of doing much about it yet.

After leading by as many as 18 points in the second quarter, the Jazz were trailing by the end of the third quarter. Their effort dipped, their execution waned, and they got the result they deserved: A 112-100 defeat to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

“We came out strong and we were playing the right way, we were defending — and then we lost our focus,” said coach Quin Snyder.

“We’ve just got to look at ourselves. I’ve said the same message to you all about, what, five times already this year?” Donovan Mitchell added. “So we’ve got to go ahead and do it, whether it’s guarding, taking care of the ball — whatever it is, we’ve got to go ahead and do it. That’s all I got for you.”

A 10-4 “run,” of all things, proved the beginning of the end.

Does 10-4 even count as a run? It did Tuesday.

Leading 52-34 with 3:03 left until halftime, the Jazz then gave up a layup to Julius Randle. Mike Conley committed back-to-back turnovers. They surrendered three offensive rebounds in a span of half a minute. Turned it over on a five-second violation. Bojan Bogdanovic lost the ball, no one sprinted back on defense, and Kevin Knox got a runout dunk.

The immediate results of the sequence were hardly some absolute obliteration — 10-4, remember? — but a deeper impact was germinated in the stretch: With a chance to put the game away, the Jazz instead got lax, got lazy, and gave the Knicks hope.

New York, fueled by that glimmer, came out of halftime the stronger, faster, more disciplined team, and the momentum of the game soon reflected as much. Utah, on the other hand, tightened up offensively, loosened up defensively, and saw another game start to slip through their fingers.

“We knew what to expect coming in the third quarter. We knew they going to come out aggressive, and we let our offense and not making shots kind of dictate our energy level, our sense of urgency, which we can’t do, ever,” Conley said. “We’ve all had bad shooting nights, but we cannot let that dictate who we are defensively, not let that take us out of what we want to do and accomplish in the game.”

Indeed, after hitting 53.5% of their shots before the break, the Jazz made just 35.4% after it. And, as Conley intoned, the Jazz saw their lack of success there impact their effort elsewhere.

Post-halftime, New York amassed 67% of its fast-break points, 63% of its points in the paint, and 61% of its points off turnovers. The Knicks shot 45% from the field and 2 of 10 from deep in the first half, then bumped those up to 57.4% and 6 for 12 in the second.

Elfrid Payton chewed them up with forays into the lane; it wasn’t just that he scored 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting, but that nine of his buckets came in the paint.

Conversely, the notoriously streaky Austin Rivers did most of his damage from the perimeter. His 9-of-14 shooting included a 5-for-7 performance from deep. He scored 23 points in all, including 14 straight down the stretch to fend off Utah’s too-late gasps at a rally. The last of those, on a step-back 3 that put the Knicks up 10 with 36.2 seconds to play, was effectively the ballgame.

Snyder acknowledged that while a few of Rivers’ buckets were simply an incendiary-in-the-moment player hitting “contested, tough shots,” there were also several — too many, as it turned out — that stemmed from “where we had breakdowns, where we got lost with matchups, and he got wide-open looks.”

Somewhat counterintuitively, given his previous comments about growing tired of repeating the same mistakes over and over again, Mitchell concluded his remarks by responding to a query about the players’ level of urgency to fix some of their problems by bemusedly (and accurately) predicting a meltdown by Jazz loyalists on social media:

“We have the tendency as a fan base, as a group, to kind of go crazy during a 4-4 start,” he noted in exasperation.

Like them, he too wishes the inconsistency was not once again an early-season narrative hanging over the team. Unlike them, however, he planned to eschew getting worked up in favor of maintaining faith right here and now that the team will get it figured out sooner rather than later.

“if we continue to sit here and feel depressed and upset, it’s not going to change. I’m not saying we’re expecting this to just click at some point in time — we’ve got to do the work. At the end of the day, we’re going to do this — it’s just a matter of when,” Mitchell said. “… It’s eight games — it hasn’t been the greatest eight games, I will say. But we can fix this and we will fix this; it’s just a matter of when we’re going to do it and how.”

KNICKS 112, JAZZ 100

Key moment • New York closed the second quarter on a seemingly meager 10-4 run, but defined as it was by too many Jazz turnovers and not enough transition defense, it helped swing the momentum.

Big number: 14 • That’s the number of consecutive points scored down the stretch by New York’s Austin Rivers, who pretty much fended off Utah’s attempts at a rally by himself.

Up next • The mid-point of Utah’s seven-game road trip comes Friday in Milwaukee. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. MT.