The Triple Team: Against a bad Rockets team, Quin Snyder keeps his focus on the long run

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) is fouled by Houston Rockets forward Jae'Sean Tate (8), in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets, at Vivint Arena, on Saturday, May 8, 2021.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 124-116 win over the Houston Rockets from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Quin Snyder’s approach to that game

You know, I thought Quin Snyder’s approach to that game was maybe the most interesting aspect of the contest. It was against the Rockets’ C team — after all, they were missing 10 players!

But Snyder was at peak alertness. He paced the sidelines, calling to his assistant coaches and communicating when something wasn’t going wrong. During timeouts he was insistently, consistently, tapping his foot. When the Jazz messed up in transition defense at the end of the half, he nearly started walking to the locker room to begin addressing the issue.

And after the game, he spoke at length how the contest was a good opportunity for the team to play against a small lineup playing a switching defense — something that there’s a good chance they’ll have to actually face during the playoffs in one matchup or another. This is a long answer, but again, I thought it was revealing:

“We’ve seen one through five black [black is the NBA lingo for switching] a lot this year, usually not with a team as small as quick as they are. The thing that people want is for you to fall into isolation. And if you feel like you have a match up, it’s isolation in the sense that you can create. It doesn’t always mean you’re creating a shot for yourself.

“Oftentimes when the game is like that, you just got to move it. And if you move it side to side, you get a chance to drive close outs. And in isolation, if you go by somebody, there’s a good chance because they’re shifting so much you’re going to get another opportunity.

“I think every time we used the ball fake, we got something good. Every time we just — when we pivoted in the lane, we were able to find people. Yes, Donovan and Mike, their quickness and ability to get by is obviously really important to us. But I think, we all can understand how we want to attack that defense, too. And, you don’t get to do that unless you see it. So our ability to recognize, switching, blitzing, bigs that are dropped at the rim, teams that are pulling in from the three point line, teams that are staying with shooters — and then all of that is negated if we’re able to run.”

Essentially, Snyder was so engaged because he ran the game like a practice: seeing what his team was able to do against a certain style of defense, in a certain set of conditions. And in the end, he thought they improved against it during the game.

Even though this was just one game out of 72, and the outcome was virtually certain from the word go, Snyder wanted to get the most out of it. And I think that explains a lot about how the Jazz find themselves where they are after years of his leadership.

2. How fatigued are the Jazz right now, and how much does it matter?

I thought the Jazz looked fatigued in that game, and there are some statistical indicators of that: the woeful transition defense, some of the offensive rebounds given up even though the Rockets were playing an extremely tiny lineup, the 18 turnovers.

And being tired would make sense: they’re missing Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, and it was the second night of a back-to-back against a good Denver team. It was their fourth game in six days. They should be tired!

Georges Niang acknowledged that the team was tired, saying:

“I would say we’re fatigued ... I think the biggest thing for us is you saw a lot of mental mistakes, right? We turned the ball over; that’s not something that we tend to do. And I think sometimes down the stretch, when we turn the ball over, that’s kind of where the fatigue kind of sets in the attention to detail.”

Jordan Clarkson said:

“We’re definitely fatigued, but that’s not new.”

But when I asked Joe Ingles if he was tired, he said this:

“Not too bad.”

I’m not sure I believe Joe, for what it’s worth. This is the exact kind of tired turnover Niang is talking about.

But I did think that Snyder had a good point in the postgame presser, too: because of the unique play-in schedule this year, the Jazz will have their time to rest. Their last game is May 16, and they’ll play their first playoff game on either May 22 or more likely May 23, which means either five or six full days off. So their tiredness now won’t impact them in the playoffs, just so long as it doesn’t cause an injury in the next four games. So that’s good!

3. Taunting technicals shouldn’t be called

Niang got his first career technical foul today, for taunting an opponent. Here’s the video:

Here’s what he said about it:

“I’m a a good individual. I usually hold my emotions in, and I just happened to lose my cool. That’s not who I am or I aspire to be,” Niang began. “Something happened. I thought he had brushed me in the face on purpose. So I told him that he was too late: he wasn’t going to get to my shot anyway. And (referee) Marc Davis decided that I was worthy of a technical.”

You know what? I don’t think Marc Davis should make that taunt a technical foul. Niang gets hit in the face, still makes the shot, and then talks back? That’s fun! That’s the kind of stuff that NBA fans want to see!

Instead, the league has gotten so concerned about players maybe working their way up to fighting one another that they’ll give out a technical even when they’re just being competitive, 40 feet away from one another. What Niang did isn’t actually a problem, it’s just that the league is worried about it becoming one.

But by giving a technical out every time a player taunts another, we’re making the product more and more sterile. Check out some of the older moments in this YouTube compilation: Shawn Kemp pointing at Alton Lister. Dennis Rodman staring at Frank Brickowski on the free-throw line. Heck, Jordan Clarkson has a literal tattoo of one video in this clip: Allen Iverson stepping over Ty Lue.

These are the some of the moments that make NBA basketball fun: the spirit of competition coming out not just in feats of skill and athleticism, but also in emotional communication — a language us non-athletes are all more familiar with.

The NBA should be thrilled every time one player taunts another, not giving out technicals to prevent it. It keeps an audience engaged, even in the doldrums of an NBA season.