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Utah Jazz fall victim to Wolves’ aggressive, swarming, switching defense for a second time. How big a problem is it?

After dropping 40 points in the first quarter, Utah is beset by too many errors and too little effort in totaling just 56 combined points over the final three periods in its 101-96 defeat at Vivint Arena.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) defended by Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels (3), Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Edwards (1), and Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) as the Utah Jazz host the Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 24, 2021.

Following Saturday morning’s shootaround, Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson was asked to reflect on the team’s first meeting with the Minnesota Timberwolves this season — a 116-111 loss all the way back on Dec. 26 — and to evaluate how his team had improved against long, rangy, aggressive, physical, switching defenses since.

And when Utah went out and dropped 40 first-quarter points on the Wolves in Saturday’s rematch, the sixth man’s proclamations that his team was far superior now against such defenses looked prophetic and accurate.

Forty in the first. Of course, then they followed with 56 in the second and third and fourth quarters combined.

Sooooooo … maybe not so much after all, then.

The Jazz’s 101-96 loss Saturday was a pretty decent facsimile of the teams’ first matchup, as Minnesota’s physicality and switching took Utah out of its free-flowing, ball-movement-centric attack.

“This is one we need to watch. It’s one that is a reoccurring situation with a lot of teams, where they’re trying to crash the glass, trying to get extra possessions, trying to turn us over to get easy opportunities in transition, because nobody really wants to get into a halfcourt situation with Rudy [Gobert] back there and our defense set,” said Mike Conley. “It’s another game that we have to learn from. We have to learn from our mistakes. We all had our times in the games where we wish we would have made a different decision or gave a little bit more effort.”

In the second quarter, the Jazz devolved into isolation, and shot 6 for 21.

In the third, they recommitted to swinging the ball sideline to sideline, but made the mistake of trying to do that via one pass rather than two or three or four, leading to a spate of turnovers that sent the Wolves racing down the court in transition.

Oh, and the Jazz also shot 6 for 19.

And in both quarters, Minnesota’s ability to hedge on shooters then execute quick closeouts led to too much hesitation, too many open shots being passed up.

All of the Jazz’s problems were pretty well-encapsulated by an early-fourth quarter play: Jordan Clarkson threw a cross-court pass that was intercepted by Anthony Edwards, who raced to the hoop but missed the layup.

The Wolves got an offensive rebound. The putback attempt missed — but the Wolves got an offensive rebound. Another layup attempt missed — but the Wolves got an offensive rebound. And finally, after a brief reset, Utah’s defense broke down … and surrendered a layup.

The Jazz committed 20 turnovers in the game, which led to 23 Wolves points.

They surrendered 11 offensive rebounds, leading to 20 second-chance points by Minnesota.

“The first couple minutes of the game, we turned the ball over and gave up a couple offensive rebounds … As the game progressed, we fell back into that,” coach Quin Snyder said. “If we’re gonna give them 40% of their points on the offensive glass and our turnovers, we’re going to make it hard on ourselves.”

As Snyder alluded to, those issues were indeed game-long problems. He called a timeout just 1:42 into the matchup after seeing his team surrender a layup following a made basket, then yielding an offensive rebound and missing a defensive rotation that led to a Minnesota 3-pointer.

The consistent issue?

“It’s focus as much as anything,” Snyder said. “This is not something that we’re unaware of. It has to be important every possession — it can’t just be important certain parts of the game. That’s gonna be crucial for us to win, and particularly to win close ballgames.

“If we’re giving up that many possessions, you make it virtually impossible — you have to be almost perfect in other aspects of the game,” he added.

And given that Utah shot just 40.2% from the field for the game, they were very far from that.

“We just couldn’t find a way to score — especially the second half,” said Gobert, who grabbed 17 rebounds but coughed the ball up five times himself. “… It was a weird game, a physical game. They were kind of grabbing, holding, and the game kind of went that way and we lost the handle on the game.”

Still, while everyone on the Utah side was sure to praise the Wolves — who became the first team to beat the Jazz twice this season — Conley said it’s not as simple as an opponent just matching up that well.

He echoed Snyder’s sentiment that the Jazz brought much of this on themselves. The good thing about that, is that it’s in their hands to resolve it and fix it.

“We just tried to do too much in certain situations, and we made plays a half-second too late as opposed to being on the money with our passes, and those situations can lead to turnovers and compounded mistakes,” Conley said. “So you give them credit for the way they came out with energy and just the way they played, but a lot of it we can control. And I expect us to be better at it.”


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