‘If this doesn’t wake us up’: Utah Jazz are critical of themselves for nonexistent urgency

Whether it’s letting off the gas while playing with a lead, or waiting too long to make a move when coming from behind, waning focus remains a significant problem.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) reacts to a foul as the Utah Jazz host the Miami Heat, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.

For the second time in the span of a week or so, the Utah Jazz went down big to the Miami Heat, staged a fourth-quarter comeback that came up short, and walked away with a loss.

Coach Quin Snyder said Saturday that those two games were but a microcosm of a season-long problem.

“This is something as far as knowing yourself as a team, to not have to have being down or the score dictate your urgency,” Snyder explained after the second loss to the Heat. “We’ve had games this year where a 17-point lead is suddenly an 11-point lead going into halftime; when a team hits a couple buckets and you have a single-digit game; where up 17 needs to turn into up 20 going in half. Our focus tends to wane depending on the score, and the concentration and commitment to the things that we did to get ahead has to be sustained.”

In effect, he’s accusing his team of lacking a killer instinct at this point.

Either they get a lead and get complacent, or their sense of urgency doesn’t kick in until significant damage already has been done.

For what it’s worth, after the Jazz were dealt their fourth loss in five games, they weren’t really in a position to disagree with their coach’s critique.

“It’s a mindset that we have to find. And right now, we haven’t had it the last week or so, where the sense of urgency is right there from the beginning, not when we’re down 20, not when things are not looking good,” said point guard Mike Conley. “If a game like this doesn’t wake us up any more than the other nights that we’ve lost [recently], Indiana and Orlando, then I don’t know what will.”

They could maybe excuse the Nov. 6 loss in Miami as the natural byproduct of facing a top team on the road. The next day’s defeat, against a young and haphazardly constructed Orlando team, could not be so easily dismissed, however.

Nor could getting physically manhandled by the Pacers on Thursday.

Seeing many of the same problems continue to haunt them against the Heat was just the proverbial cherry on top.

“At some point, it’s gonna get bad enough for you that it’s embarrassing,” said Donovan Mitchell. “[In coming back], we showed fight, we showed character, we showed who we are, and I’m never gonna doubt that, but to be down almost 30 and then be like, ‘All right, it’s time,’ we got to that point. We’ll be better. Thankfully, we’re [only] 13 games in, and this isn’t January, February, or March that we’re having this problem. So let’s do it.”

It certainly was embarrassing that the second and third quarters got away from them so thoroughly and completely Saturday against Miami.

It certainly was embarrassing when frustrated segments of the Vivint Arena crowd began to serenade the team with boos as the Heat continued to dissect Utah’s defense, and out-hustle Jazz players to one offensive rebound after another.

Before the Jazz knew what had happened, they were trailing by 27 points in the fourth quarter.

Three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert noted that, as they usually do, the Jazz began the game with a defensive mentality, but that, as sometimes happens with them, the intensity declines “when we take a punch.”

Utah’s efficacy waned further, he added, from the cumulative effect of the Heat running Jazz defenders through one action after another deep into the shot clock, and the Jazz responding by rushing down and firing up a shot the moment they got a look they liked at a 3.

“If we rush and take those shots, they’re playing defense for like 3 seconds and we’re playing defense for 20 seconds,” Gobert said. “And then we have to run back. … Over the course of the game, it’s more exhausting.”

That certainly didn’t help their case Saturday, but it was far from the only cause.

Key in Snyder’s mind is a lack of consistency — in effort and approach.

“I just don’t think we’ve had sustained concentration,” he said. “Against the teams in this league, those types of breakdowns on a given possession, that lead that you worked hard to build, if it doesn’t go away it certainly gets reduced. And that gives the other team confidence and energy and emotion, and then it’s that much harder to build it back.”

Mitchell, asked if it was “concerning” that Utah has yet to really put together a full game, opted for “upsetting” as his preferred adjective. Upsetting, he explained, because this group has enough talent and chemistry and experience that this shouldn’t be an issue.

And while he went on to express relief that the Jazz are facing this particular problem at the 13-game mark of the season, as opposed to in January, February, or March, he nevertheless noted that it’s time to nip it in the bud, with the 76ers coming to town on Tuesday:

“We gotta look ourselves in the mirror and come back and be ready for Philly.”