The Triple Team: Utah Jazz show disappointing urgency, don’t value possessions in critical Game 5 loss to the LA Clippers

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) with the Jazz trailing by 5 in the final minute, as the Utah Jazz host the Los Angeles Clippers in a Game 5 matchup, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

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Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 119-111 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. It felt like the Jazz thought this was going to be gifted to them

Maybe the Jazz read about how they were the favorites, now that Kawhi Leonard was out. Maybe they read about how the line jumped, or how they could afford to be patient with Mike Conley now, or how two games at home meant that they were likely to win the series.

They came out firing on offense, making all manner of 3-point shots. But the shotmaking masked the low level of effort and focus in a hugely important game.

This ball gets deflected — yeah, it’s kind of a lazy pass from Rudy Gobert. But both Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles are in better position to get it than Terance Mann, but Mann beats them both. Mitchell doesn’t try (understandable, given the ankle), and Ingles just... jogs towards the ball?

A simple play gets the ball to Marcus Morris for the three, and the Jazz end up recovering. But Bojan Bogdanovic doesn’t actually close out to Morris all the way, and so he can just shoot the three.

Let me tell you a little factoid about Morris: he’s one of a small number of players who has a better shooting percentage from 3-point range than 2-point range. Not just midrange — everywhere from 2. That doesn’t even count the extra point you get for making threes. It’s important to stop him from shooting! But the Jazz lack focus here, and the coaching staff is furious.

Georges Niang has proved pretty close to unplayable in this series, so you’d expect him to want to prove everyone wrong and at least show focus. But here, he throws a pass to Nicolas Batum, then plays loopy and obviously bad transition defense, leaving a wide-open Reggie Jackson from three.

Okay, one more. Gobert says Clarkson got fouled here, but instead of running back, he’s complaining to the officials. Then George is able to get his own rebound, after which Gobert flops. Morris steps over him, and Gobert wacks Morris’ leg in frustration. Technical.

This is a Game 5. In a playoff series. And they come out with that level of energy? I don’t know, guys. I already criticized everyone on the team after Game 4, so I don’t have a lot of words left. Luckily, Gobert does:

“I didn’t feel like we were playing with a sense of urgency at the beginning of the game. Obviously, we were doing great job making shots and scoring, and in a way I wish we would have missed shots so maybe we would have thought that we need to play some defense to win this game,” Gobert seriously suggested. “We just didn’t.”

Interestingly, Mitchell disputed that there was a lack of urgency early, saying he thought the problem was mistakes, not effort. For what it’s worth, I agree with Gobert, even though he certainly belongs in the camp of people who also didn’t show enough urgency. I’m not sure what that means for the team moving forward; it might be as simple as Gobert being willing to criticize his team publicly but Mitchell not wanting to. I appreciate Gobert’s honesty, though.

Regardless, maybe an actual elimination game will wake them up? We’ll see Friday.

2. Jazz’s defense on Paul George

Paul George scored 37 points on 12-22 shooting. He played 40 minutes, got to the free-throw line 11 times, had 16 rebounds, and added five assists.

Full stop: given that Leonard is no longer a part of this series, it was unacceptable the level of defense that they played on George.

Here’s an example. The Jazz got a 10-point lead midway through the second quarter, thanks to some good threes. Cool! The Clippers call timeout. And they come out of the timeout and run this play:

I’m sorry, O’Neale. What? That screen, from Terance Mann, is enough for you to get that far behind George? Really?

This play was really the dagger in the game. Jazz coming back, down 4, 1:48 left, and George gets this easy foul on O’Neale to go to the line — oh, and he made the shot, too.

O’Neale has to respect George enough to know that he’s capable of getting the foul there. The hand-in-the-face defense might seem tough, but it’s something that the league’s stars know how to beat: just rise up and create contact. Because O’Neale is in an illegal guarding position, any contact is going to be a foul.

Ultimately, you just wish the Jazz had better perimeter defensive options. We talked about that in last year’s playoffs, we’ve talked about it this regular season, and we’re talking about it now: O’Neale just isn’t making much of an impact on these guys.

A couple of other non-Royce notes on the Jazz’s defense on George:

Fans hate Paul George’s push-off move, and Jazz players do too. But honestly? The Jazz’s defenders have to sell it to have a chance of getting it called — unless the referees see that force is being used, they’re not going to give an offensive foul to George. Flop to win, is what I’m saying.

And man, the Jazz just can’t ever have Derrick Favors in the game at the same time as George. George embarrassed him twice in a row early in the game, the Jazz’s lead evaporating in seconds.

It’s another thing they’ll need to turn around if they’re going to win two in a row to keep their series alive — George can’t be allowed to be that good again.

3. Shot selection on offense

Do you know what else was not smart tonight? The Jazz’s shot selection.

I have several gripes.

• After Bogdanovic had a scintillating offensive first half, he only was able to take five shots in the second half. To be sure, the Clippers adjusted, but I think the Jazz could have done more to get their most potent offensive threat (given Mitchell’s obvious struggle with the ankle) involved.

• Gobert, now is not the time to work on the Eurostep layup through contact — contact that really could have been called an offensive foul. Kick it to the open Clarkson.

• So after a horrendous third quarter, the Jazz come out knowing they need a comeback. They have a quarter break to talk about the shots they want to get. And instead, they got two contested midrange fadeaways early in the shot clock from Mitchell and Clarkson. The first isn’t available on video on NBA.com, so I can only show you the second one. It is bad enough.

• O’Neale and Ingles both passed up wide-open looks from three, for reasons that will forever elude me. Huge, huge record scratches, and these guys are good 3-point shooters! O’Neale then found ways to commit turnovers on those plays instead. Absolutely killer.

• Mitchell took some really awful shots. Definitely, he’s been quite successful at the hero-ball in the first 4 games of the series, but I think he had to acknowledge earlier that it wasn’t his night. I just think that the Jazz can get better looks than a stepback contested three with 17 seconds on the shot clock, for example.

Not even the Jazz’s bench thinks Mitchell got fouled here.

The playoffs require truly valuing every possession. The Jazz didn’t, and it was evident in both the process and the results.

Can the Jazz come back in this series? Of course. But they’ll need to play significantly better than they did tonight — or else they’re going home.

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