It’s not like there wasn’t a lot to like about the Utah Jazz’s 120-105 victory in Portland on Wednesday night.
Playing against a small, switchable defense, the Jazz racked up 74 points in the paint, led by a punishingly efficient performance from big men Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside.
The ball was moving. The offense was balanced, with six players scoring between 15 and 22 points in the absence of Donovan Mitchell. And after a mediocre defensive performance in the first half, Utah got considerably more stingy after the break, holding Portland to 18-for-49 shooting (36.7%), and limiting Norman Powell to seven points over the final two quarters after he’d breezed his way to 25 before halftime.
They’ve now won five games in a row overall, and eight straight on the road, too.
Coach Quin Snyder, though, wasn’t exactly doing backflips afterward. In his postgame media session, he first praised his team for a few facets of the game that he liked. Then he said what was really on his mind …
“I was disappointed, really, throughout the first three quarters,” he said.
Portland never led in the game even one time, but Snyder felt like his players allowed the Blazers to linger. Let them hang around. Have hope that they might yet rally back and pull off an improbable victory.
“We’d build a lead and then we’d let up a little bit. We didn’t extend it,” Snyder said. “… Part of it for me is I just look at our demeanor, and there isn’t an urgency in those moments that I know our team has.”
Rudy Gobert, who amassed 22 points, 14 boards and a pair of blocks on 8-for-10 shooting, but who also went a meager 6 of 12 at the free-throw line, agreed that the Jazz were a little lax in slamming the door.
“Definitely. There were a few times when we were up 10 and … when you’re up 10, it can go either way — you can either get up 15, 20, or you can let them come back and cut the lead to five, then then it’s a ballgame,” said Gobert. “I thought there were a few stretches when we let them get too many offensive rebounds, a few stretches when we could have fouled to stop the break, and we didn’t. It’s on us to keep being aware in those moments when we’re up 10 and — if we lock in even more — we can get up 20. And then it’s much more likely that we’re going to win this game.”
To his point, the Blazers grabbed 11 offensive rebounds despite using 6-foot-7 Larry Nance Jr. as their nominal 5 for most of the game.
And as for transition defense — which Snyder also cited as a problem yet again — Utah had a relatively minuscule 11 turnovers in the game, but Portland turned that into 18 points off of, and the Blazers accumulated 22 fast-break points overall.
The aforementioned free-throw shooting didn’t help, either, as the Jazz were an unimpressive 20 of 32 (62.5%), with Gobert and Hassan Whiteside (3 of 7) the primary culprits.
“I wish I’d have made more free throws. This was probably my toughest free-throw night,” said Whiteside. “We could have shot better from the free-throw line as a collective — we missed 12 free throws. … But at the end of the day, you want to learn through the wins. We’re winning, so you want to learn through that, at least.”
For what it’s worth, Snyder said the light finally seemed to come on for the Jazz in a conversation during a break in the action with about three minutes left in the third quarter. At that point, he finally started seeing what he was looking for: Portland is hanging around, within 10 or 12? Rather than letting the Blazers cut their deficit down to six, suddenly the Jazz were expanding their advantage to 14 or 16.
The coach added that it’s imperative, in his view, that the Jazz are “able to find that mindset not just when the game gets close, not just at the beginning of the game,” because if they keep up the trend, opponents playing better than the Blazers will be able to exploit it.
There must be more focus. And there must be more urgency.
“All it takes is a couple turnovers and a couple easy baskets, and all of a sudden it’s a small margin that we’re talking about,” Snyder said. “We just have to continue to lock in during those moments and make each possession more important to create that. You either give a team life, or by extending a lead you make it much more difficult for them to continue to compete on the level that they need to come back.”
Gobert was even more succinct about the missing-in-action killer instinct.
“It’s those moments when we have to put our foot on their throat and demoralize the other team,” he said. “We’ll get there. It’s a big win, but in every win there’s stuff you can do better and there’s stuff that you can learn from. Tonight was a great example of that.”