As fatigue sets in for the Utah Jazz, their defense pays the price

Jazz, down two primary backcourt players, go through the motions early, rally late, fall 125-121 to the Wizards.

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, left, goes to the basket as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, April 12, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The Utah Jazz have played a fair amount of games this season without Mike Conley … or Joe Ingles … or Donovan Mitchell … or Jordan Clarkson. And thanks to their depth, they’ve mostly been OK.

Playing their fourth game in six nights on Monday, this time without both Conley and Clarkson — well, that apparently was a bit too much.

The Jazz looked gassed, their defensive effort (read: the lack thereof) reflected that, and Utah’s 24-game home winning streak came to an ignominious end at the hands of the Washington Wizards, 125-121.

True enough — a spirited fourth-quarter rally would seem to fly in the face of the “not enough juice” argument; then again, there’s little arguing that for the first three quarters Monday, the Jazz didn’t play with a whole lot of fire or force.

“Well, we’ve been playing a lot of games, but so has Washington,” coach Quin Snyder noted afterward. “And once you get into the competition of the game, regardless of what level everybody’s fatigue [is at] throughout the year, both teams are in the same situation. As much as anything, I think for us, there’s a mental component that we have to make sure we’re just sharper, talk more, more disciplined, [better] execution — those types of things. A conglomeration of all that stuff.”

[Read The Triple Team: Jazz disappoint defensively, Mitchell reads need work in loss to Wizards]

Snyder, asked pregame whether the absence of half of his typical backcourt rotation would spur more minutes for the regulars available or a deeper dive into the bench, answered that both would be the case.

He got mixed results in both cases.

In terms of the backcourt starters:

Donovan Mitchell looked incendiary in the opening quarter, racking up 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting … pretty lackluster over the middle two quarters, as he endured a 1-for-12 shooting stretch … then pretty insane in the fourth quarter again, as he wound up with 42 points and six assists in 38 minutes — though he finished 14 of 32 from the field.

Joe Ingles, who posted a career-high 34 points in the teams’ previous meeting on March 18, could not come close to matching that, this time totaling 18 points (albeit on an inefficient 6 for 16) and six assists in 31 minutes.

As for the reserves …

Well, let’s just say it’s not an encouraging sign when the team’s nightly fourth-quarter “Subway Sub of the Game” promotional honor goes to Miye Oni for a three-point, four-rebound, two-assist performance.

Oni’s 14 minutes were fairly nondescript, which still put them ahead of those played by rookie two-way guard Trent Forrest (zero points on 0-for-1 shooting, zero rebounds, one assist in 12 minutes) and trade-deadline addition Matt Thomas (zero points on 0-for-1 shooting, zero rebounds, zero assists in seven minutes).

Of course, this wasn’t merely about the backcourt production — 59 combined points from Washington’s Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook notwithstanding.

Wizards backup big men Daniel Gafford (15 points on 6 for 8) and Robin Lopez (10 points on 5 for 5) took it to Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors consistently.

Washington was shooting nearly 70% from the field at the end of the first quarter, almost 60% at the half, and finished at 52.2% for the game. The Wizards attacked the midrange relentlessly, notching 58 points in the paint.

“We just didn’t have enough of a presence on the defensive end in general,” said Snyder.

Meanwhile, Royce O’Neale’s offensive struggles continued (two points, 1-for-2 shooting); no one other than Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic (33 points on 10 for 18) was any kind of consistent threat; and Utah wound up getting only 14 combined points from its bench players.

Gobert, asked if there was fatigue at play, didn’t bother to deny it.

“There is. There is. I’ve been taking a lot of pride in trying to not miss any games. … If I’m tired, if I’m beat up, I try to be there for my team, and I try to not show it because I need to be the anchor of the defense. So I try not to show it,” he said. “But yeah, it’s an NBA season, and this one has been a little more condensed, so there’s more games, obviously. But at the end of the day, I think we’re going to have to be smart, because the goal is for us to be fresh for the playoffs, but at the same time to keep competing and, more importantly, keep getting better.”

Mitchell didn’t bother to deny the tiredness factor, either.

However, like Snyder, he acknowledged that the Jazz are hardly unique in that respect. And with the second half of a back-to-back coming up Tuesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Jazz don’t really have time to dwell on it, either.

“I’m not blaming the loss on that, but there was definitely a few moments of fatigue. But Washington didn’t care, and OKC’s not going to care, so we got to be able to fight through that and play through that,” Mitchell said. “It’s easy to forget that this season is what it is. But for us, we’ve been rolling all year and there’s going to be moments where we’re tired and there’s going to be stretches where we’re tired throughout games. And we’ve got to find ways to fight through it, and we’ll bounce back and get ready for tomorrow.”