Utah Jazz’s struggles in transition make for a tougher-than-necessary night vs. the Bulls

Jazz eventually pull out a 113-106 decision for their eighth straight win, but they made it hard on themselves by giving up easy buckets while failing to get any themselves.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) dribbles through traffic, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Chicago Bulls, at Vivint Arena, on Friday, April 2, 2021.

Eventually, the Utah Jazz simply had too much talent, too much offensive firepower for the Chicago Bulls to keep up on Friday night.

But the Bulls made the Jazz work for the win.

For that matter, the Jazz made themselves work for the win.

They ultimately got that win — 113-106 — to pick up their eighth consecutive victory overall, their 21st in a row at Vivint Arena, and to improve to 37-11 on the season.

But they also showed they still have much to work on — specifically, in the area of transition.

“We didn’t run like we wanted to,” coach Quin Snyder explained simply. “I thought when we were crashing the offensive boards, we got buried sometimes and were trying to come behind, where we weren’t in a position to get back. And early in the game, they got out on us and there were some [situations] when they had numbers — a number of those guys got to the rim. We weren’t urgent enough in transition. Our offense has to help our defense; getting back is crucial for us.”

While Utah has generally been a much-improved defensive team this season, they have occasionally been susceptible to lapses in transition. And in the first half Friday, Chicago held an eye-popping 10-0 advantage in fast-break points.

The Jazz were improved in that area post-halftime — limiting the Bulls to just two points in transition.

Then again, Utah only managed three total fast-break points themselves the entire evening.

Not that it was quite as simple as “Win in transition, win the game.”

Utah left a lot to be desired in a lot of areas — their point-of-attack defense wasn’t really stellar, either, as the Bulls racked up 68 points in the paint; Donovan Mitchell, back from a one-game airplane-trauma-induced hiatus, looked out of rhythm for most of the night; they were oddly sluggish for long stretches, a trend that most showed up in the early moments of the third quarter (when they were outscored 10-2) and deep into the fourth (when they saw a 16-point lead cut all the way down to three).

Still, Utah did itself no favors by allowing so many easy points early on, and never really managing to get any themselves.

In terms of the Jazz’s own dearth of points on the break, Mitchell said there simply wasn’t a whole lot Utah could do against Chicago.

“They got back on defense. There were times where I was trying to attack and there was just nothing there,” he said. “There wasn’t really many gaps. There just wasn’t many ways to attack, you know? So give credit to them.”

As for the Jazz’s transition defense, well, there was plenty they could have done better on that end.

“There were times we were walking back, watching the ball, the next thing you know they take off, getting out and running,” Mitchell added. “That’s just on us to put an emphasis on getting back on defense.”

His teammates agreed that it was mostly an issue of effort.

While Rudy Gobert suggested that a few early turnovers put the defense in disadvantageous positions, he also acknowledged, “There were a lot of times when we could have sprinted back, and we were kind of slow to turn around and were jogging back.”

Bojan Bogdanovic was harsher still, saying Utah’s lack of effort in running detracted from an otherwise solid effort defensively.

“We were not great on defensive transition. We didn’t use our fouls before the bonus situations, so they had a lot of easy buckets,” he said. “Five-on-five, we were great; overall our defense was solid. But, yeah, you’re right that our transition position defense has got to be better.”