It’s been a couple of weeks since the Jazz were bounced from the playoffs in Game 6 by the Clippers, a defeat that crushed Donovan Mitchell and his teammates, most of whom said the loss was the toughest they’ve endured in a long, long time, maybe ever. That’s what happens when expectations are so high and the results are so low. It’s what happens when you’re up 25 points in the third quarter, and you lose by 12.
There’s got to be somebody to blame for that kind of flip-flop, with the emphasis on the flop, and that somebody too often in the burning aftermath even now is the coach — Quin Snyder.
What it more aptly should do is indicate a basic weakness in the Jazz’s roster, and underscore a need to immediately address it, one way or another.
Mitchell said it plain and said it right after the Jazz suffered through one of the worst second halves in club history, over two periods that hardly called for their best. All they had to do was play kind of decent and just hang on.
They did neither.
“We made great adjustments — as a coaching staff, as a team — but we just didn’t execute it on the floor, and that’s on us,” Mitchell said. “It ain’t on anybody else but the guys on the floor.”
It’s the guy in front of the bench, though, who’s taking the brunt of the obloquy for the way that whole mess ended. I’m no coach, and Snyder has made no excuses for, nor requested any defense here of his actions and reactions, but after reviewing the game again and again — it is, indeed, ugly enough to scare the mud off a shovel every single time — there are considerations for everyone to hash through and that proper hashing should change the blame game.
And highlight the aforementioned weakness and the need to fix it.
Snyder did make adjustments in that second half, as the Jazz were swamped, but because the flailing and failing were the same, a lot of folks couldn’t see them, especially since the Jazz struggled, regardless, to guard the ball.
The Jazz switched matchups, they played some zone, and they rotated, none of which worked.
Snyder’s adjustments weren’t noticed so much because when they changed matchups, the Clippers still made shots. The Jazz went to a zone, and it didn’t look that much different because Gobert is almost always at the rim, anyway, and L.A. continued to isolate the top of the zone, playing five-out.
If the Jazz had pulled Gobert, their best defender, and hoped to outscore the Clippers with Joe Ingles or Georges Niang, neither of whom were particularly effective, that wouldn’t have worked. At least Gobert could have created space for the attack and gotten some offensive rebounds.
The other thing the Jazz could have done on defense was to trap the ball, but that leads to rotations and open shots. Terance Mann went berserk, as has been repeatedly noted, and that had not exactly been his forte. Mann had never made more than two 3s in a game in his career. Here, he made seven. The Jazz sent Gobert at him, and then started rotating to him and what happened? The other Clippers shooters scorched them, hitting … what was it, nine of 11 deep balls?
The Clippers had an epic shooting night, one of the best shooting nights of the entire NBA season. That second half was a top-four shooting exhibition for that same entire season.
Snyder, as mentioned, could have taken Gobert out, and replaced him with some other player, but that player likely would not have been more proficient at guarding the perimeter, at least according to statistical info pertaining to individual close-outs.
The Clips had their way utilizing Reggie Jackson and Paul George, neither of whom Jazz perimeter defenders could contain, whoever was assigned to them. Who else was Snyder supposed to try to toss out there … Miye Oni? Jarrell Brantley?
The Jazz didn’t have a proven, long, physical defender to call on to rescue them.
Let that settle in.
Snyder could have tried — no lie — putting Gobert on the ball, and if he had, and that — long shot — would actually have been effective, the Clippers would have gone one-on-one somewhere else. Instead, the Jazz played Gobert bottom weak side to protect the rim and if they hadn’t, the Clips would have gotten a thousand layups and dunks.
Meanwhile, the Jazz labored in that second half on the offensive end, much of that stemming from Mitchell and Conley both being compromised due to injury. Mitchell got his points, but was clearly hampered, especially in his verticality and explosiveness, and Conley was not himself, making just one of eight shots, and turning the ball over.
Conley’s presence when he was healthy this season was huge, serving as the team’s rudder. It is in the Jazz’s best interests to re-sign him, even with his durability issues and the fact that the Jazz guard line is small, and here’s why: Conley’s skills have not diminished, and it will be tough for the Jazz to find a suitable replacement.
Conley was the pilot the Jazz went to in so many situations, and not having him against the Clippers was huge as the series turned against the Jazz.
If they bring the veteran point guard back they can make another run, although, either way, they’ll have to stay healthy and hope for favorable playoff matchups, which is always the case for any team — unless it is so dominant that such trivial issues don’t come into play. No matter what the Jazz do this offseason, with Gobert as their main defensive cog, they will have some prowess and some vulnerability. They will not be dominant, nor versatile enough not to worry about it.
They need versatile defensive help on the outside to improve, that much is apparent and that is the point. What they can get in that regard in an offseason in which the financials are as tight as they are is complicated. It’s not easy, but it is necessary. Developing what they need from within the current roster is a reach, and improbable.
If they don’t get help there, Snyder could face a similar dilemma next season, whatever their regular-season success, needing to make and, indeed, making adjustments against a talented, athletic playoff opponent, but not having the pieces necessary for anyone to notice.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.