Los Angeles • Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 118-104 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. A quick list of everyone I’m disappointed in
Listen: I understand that the Jazz came back in that game, to make the Jazz’s 29-point deficit they had early in the game look a little bit better. But when you get out to that big of a deficit, you’ve almost certainly lost. It was an unacceptable way to play a critical playoff game.
I think, therefore, it is fair to read the riot act to everyone.
Bojan Bogdanovic, you are the Jazz’s second-best offensive player with Mike Conley out. That means, when the other team is throwing two to three guys at Donovan Mitchell, you need to have a bigger influence on proceedings. It’s your turn.
In particular, you need to get the ball, and make quick, decisive, aggressive decisions: either force a switch you want, or attack with the space you have — especially if it’s Mitchell passing it to you. In general, if you’re at all open, you should just shoot it. The game is begging for a secondary creator, but you’ve been too passive to make a dent next to Mitchell.
Jordan Clarkson, you are also a very talented offensive player. But you are much more efficient when you are taking good shots, and when you’re taking bad ones and driving into traffic without an escape plan, you absolutely kill your team.
This is way too early in the shot clock to take the worst shot in basketball.
Jordan, you are being defended by Kawhi Leonard. It is the end of the quarter, and you want to use as much clock as possible. Now is definitely not an okay time to drive and shoot a floater that has no chance.
This is straight-up not valuing possessions to a playoff level, and it’s killing the Jazz.
Derrick Favors, you can’t be so passive defensively. Right now, the Clippers are absolutely licking their chops when they see you on the floor, knowing that they’ll have easy baskets around the rim.
I loved you helping on the Kawhi Leonard dunk — a lot of defenders would have made a business decision there. That wasn’t your fault. But on other plays, if you can get your work done early, you’ll have a lot better shot of making an impact, especially given how the athleticism seems to have waned again.
Rudy Gobert, the Clippers are playing Marcus Morris Sr. at center. In those situations, you have to be absolutely dominant on the glass. You can’t let the Clippers guys get into you and shove you under the hoop on the glass — you need to fight back!
Tip balls to your teammates, stay connected to the play, and fight all the way through the end of possessions.
Joe Ingles, I need you to be more focused and engaged on the floor. You had a team-high +4 — great! But given your shooting and playmaking ability, you need to be more involved.
Here, you were being guarded by Marcus Morris. Instead of attacking, you looked left at Clarkson guarded by Beverley, then kicked it right to Bogdanovic, guarded by Leonard. Joe, the answer in that situation is you — it’s time for a step-back three or a drive with your left hand.
Donovan Mitchell, you’ve been absolutely scintillating individually offensively. Terrific. But yes, even you are going to get some criticism here.
You’ve been thrust into the point guard role without Mike Conley. But now, the next big step has to be finding ways to let your teammates eat too. The team can’t have this many possessions of you dribbling the ball. When the defense collapses on you, you need to be able to trust your teammates, even if they haven’t been super helpful — doing this will allow them to gain some rhythm and confidence.
Clarkson’s open for the first part of this possession, and then O’Neale has to take the bad shot at the end of it over swinging it to the open Bogdanovic because it’s the end of the shot clock. Quicker actions, more passes.
Bogdanovic is open here, and Gobert also has a mismatch against Patrick Beverley.
In the end, the Jazz will need other players besides you to be successful. Help set them up for success.
Georges Niang, I understand that this has been a rough shooting series for you. I understand that shooting will be up-and-down, and at any moment, you could start contributing via the 3-point shot.
But in every other aspect of your game, you can’t let your shooting struggles show. You have to be somewhat focused defensively — this is mindbogglingly silly defense.
Royce O’Neale, you take on the responsibility of the team’s best offensive player. You are a tone-setter. If you’re engaged, if you can keep the opposition in front, the team can stay alive defensively. If they can just pick on you, Gobert can’t cover for every mistake.
So, jeez, man, this won’t do. Can’t let PG olé you like that.
This isn’t brain surgery, but look — in order to have success in this series, the Jazz need to play better. The individual players are losing focus, making poor choices, and not executing like they need to. For some players, only small adjustments are needed. For others, it’s real, true gut check time.
2. Coaching rotation adjustments needed
Quin Snyder, I understand that, to some degree, consistency in approach has been a cause of success in the organization. For essentially all of this season, you’ve used the same rotation, to great results: a No. 1 seed. Playing Gobert at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, in particular, was incredibly useful in the regular season.
It’s time to make changes.
Gobert was, finally, stifling the Clippers attack at the beginning of the second half. In large part, behind his play, your team had cut the lead from 29 to 14. So then, at 6:34 in the third quarter, can not be the time to sit Gobert and instead play Favors — regardless of what you’ve been doing all season.
Yes, I understand Gobert had 3 fouls. But due to that foul trouble, he’d only played 13 minutes in the first half. But without Gobert in the game, the team had no ability to defend. Would extending his time definitely worked? No. But would it have given the team a better chance to keep it close? Yes.
The most Gobert has played in the playoffs is 36:04. That’s too few. The difference on-court between 40 minutes of Gobert and 32 minutes of Gobert — as he played tonight — is massive. Play your best players.
I also think it’s time to do what it takes to reduce Niang and Clarkson minutes — which means playing Ingles more, and maybe even someone like Ersan Ilyasova. Look, I’m not saying Ilyasova would bring a ton, but he might make the Clippers pause just for a second before attacking; right now, what they’re doing to Niang is ruthless. (No player in these playoffs has lost more money in free agency than Niang.)
Mike Conley, of course, would make everything look a lot better. And heck, by any reasonable standard, you’re outperforming in this series: 2-2 without Conley and with the Clippers shooting like this is probably a result Jazz fans would have taken before the series began. But the tides have turned toward L.A., and a coaching adjustment is needed to turn them back towards the Jazz.
3. The state of the roster
Dennis Lindsey, you needed to build a roster with more flexibility. Look at the Clippers: they have different types of players for different situations. Need a game-reader? Play Rajon Rondo. Need a defensive ball pressure guy? Play Patrick Beverley. Need shooting? Play Luke Kennard.
Your roster lacks good options for Snyder to use. You have no point guard options behind Mike Conley besides two-way Trent Forrest — a point guard is exactly what this Jazz roster needs right now, as they struggle to execute a hint at an offense when the going gets tough. Point guards are useful for that, but the Jazz don’t have any right now.
It also would be nice if you could play switchable basketball, just some small-ball to give the Clippers another look. But who would play the five in such a situation? Ersan Ilyasova, I guess? It’s a reach to play him playoff minutes when he was out of the NBA for most of the season.
Instead, you used a first-round pick on Udoka Azubuike and your trade deadline acquisition was Matt Thomas — in a season in which you said your goal was championship contention. Neither of those players filled holes on the roster, instead only tripling down on facets of the game your team already excelled in. Phoenix, meanwhile, showed how to use the end of the roster on potentially playable players, guys like Cam Payne and E’Twaun Moore and Torrey Craig.
Conley returning would also help you look good, too.
Ultimately, we’ve known about holes in this Jazz playoff roster since the Nuggets loss last season — no depth at guard, poor perimeter defense, and a lack of defensive versatility at the forward and center spots. The Jazz could well get through this series, and it’d still be nice to have those options for later in the playoffs.
You’ve done a lot right, but the end of this roster is a mess, and it’s hurting now.
Note that all of this criticism doesn’t mean I don’t think those people are good at their jobs. The players are very good, by any reasonable standard. Quin Snyder is a top-5 coach in my opinion, and Dennis Lindsey a top-10 GM. And yet, this is a competitive business, where top-5 or 10 isn’t good enough — only one team goes home happy. When the team plays badly, criticism is fair. The team played badly.
The Clippers exposed some of the Jazz’s weaknesses in Game 4, and will need to improve from top-to-bottom to bounce back in this series. They certainly can, but a change in approach will need to be made.