Midway through what turned out to be a pretty unwatchable third quarter Wednesday night, several Utah Jazz fans tweeted variations of the same theme:
I’ve reached the conclusion that the Jazz play better when they have Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley.
Yeah, just a bit.
Utah’s 105-98 loss to the Blazers in its regular-season home finale was the first game in a hot minute where the Jazz truly seemed overmatched without their injured All-Star backcourt.
Not enough playmaking.
Not enough shooting.
Not enough movement to get a stagnant offense out of low gear.
Not enough transition.
“When you miss your two leading scorers, it makes it easier on teams to prepare for us. That’s why we’re so hard to guard with everybody — because we’ve got so many weapons,” said Rudy Gobert. “And when those guys are not here, the defense can really focus on Joe [Ingles], Bojan [Bogdanovic], Jordan [Clarkson], and make their life tougher. It’s great for us to go through that phase right now — it just makes us better.”
Long-term, anyway. Not so much on Wednesday.
For awhile, they’d been able to get by with efficiency from Ingles and volume from Clarkson and a mixture of both from Bogdanovic.
They really only got one of those three against the Blazers (with Clarkson dropping in 29 points on 11-for-17 shooting).
“J.C. is pretty much the only one who came out offensively with the right mindset,” Bogdanovic noted sheepishly afterward.
The implosion was all the more remarkable considering the Jazz began the game by drilling their first seven shots and dropping 31 first-quarter points on Portland.
Once the Blazers adjusted, though, Utah didn’t have much.
The Jazz shot just 9 of 25 in the second period, and 6 of 19 in the third. They began the fourth by making only 1 of their first 8 as the Blazers pulled away and slammed the door shut. Utah would go on to finish 7 of 18 from the field in the final quarter.
Meanwhile, no one totaled more than four assists individually, and they wound up with a mere 15 collectively on 35 made baskets.
“We know that’s something we really have to be committed to doing. And it’s something we got to continue to do,” said coach Quin Snyder.
They went cold from 3-point range as well, hitting just 12 of 40 attempts (30%).
“They made everything harder for us, they played very physical. It just was harder for us to be able to do what we wanted to do,” said Gobert. “Despite all that, we still got a lot of open shots. And on another day, we probably make those shots, and it’s a different game.”
They also managed just two fast-break points for the entire game.
“Maybe the biggest thing for us is trying to stay out of the halfcourt game — we fouled and that slowed the game down because we’re not able to push the ball, whether it’s a make or miss,” said Snyder.
Mitchell won’t be back until the playoffs. Conley’s status for Friday’s road game at Oklahoma City and Sunday’s finale in Sacramento is undetermined.
In the meantime, the guys who’ve had to step up and take on bigger roles are now feeling the effects of opponents adjusting to them.
Bogdanovic came right out and praised the Blazers for employing against Utah many of the same tactics the Jazz like to use to limit other teams’ offenses.
“They were trying to double J.C. for for a whole game, so they didn’t allow him to get any any wide-open looks. They were trying to top-lock my pin-downs and send me to the rim and beat me on the pick-and-rolls,” Bogdanovic explained. “… It’s normal that they’re going to throw different looks and different defenses on us right now.”
Clarkson concurred, noting it was inevitable that he, Bogdanovic and Ingles would start to see more aggressive defenses, that they would start to see teams try to further diminish an already depleted supply of offensive options.
With two games remaining, the Jazz will have to fight through it, and hope not only that the Thunder and Kings are not nearly as adept at weaponizing the Jazz’s short-handedness against them as the Blazers were, but that they can quickly get things rolling again in the postseason.
“You’re see a lot of teams doing different things — blitzing, switching, just doing all kinds of things trying to get the ball out of the three playmakers’ hands,” Clarkson said. “… Both of those guys are missed so much. I’m not in catch-and-shoot situations anymore as much; I’m on the ball a lot trying to make plays — as well as Joe, as well as Bojan. [Mitchell and Conley] definitely come in and make big plays and break the defense down and do things that a lot of teams don’t have. Definitely those guys are missed. We can’t wait to get them back healthy and be ready to kick this thing off for the playoffs.”