The Triple Team: Jazz get blasted defensively without Rudy Gobert. What’s going wrong?

Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) fouls Utah Jazz center Hassan Whiteside (21) who was attempting to score during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 125-113 loss to the Indiana Pacers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. That’s an unacceptable level of communication on defense

Domantas Sabonis had the best night of his entire career on Saturday: 42 points on 18-22 shooting. He shot 15-18 inside the arc. The Jazz allowed 125 points to a team that had lost 6 games in a row. How in the world did this happen?

Well, without Rudy Gobert available, the Jazz played unbelievably awful defense. After watching the tape, I’m going to zoom in on two things: their communication on defense, and their effort on defense.

It honestly seemed like the Jazz had never met one another before. And heck, maybe that was true in Norvel Pelle’s case — but everywhere else? It’s just gotta be better.

Take the very first play of the game: it’s a Kiefer Sykes/Myles Turner pick and roll. It doesn’t make sense to defend it like this: y’all have to talk to figure this out. Sabonis is their best player, an All-Star, leaving him this open doesn’t make sense whether its his first point or 40th point.

On the other hand, you can’t have 2 players guard Sabonis, either:

They just had no idea how to defend pick and roll all game long. I think they tried different things, but rotations weren’t there at any of the right times.

This play at the end of the half was wild. I have no idea what the Jazz’s plan is here. Is it a zone? If not, Why is Donovan Mitchell guarding nobody? If so, why does he leave his zone? Does he think Bogdanovic is guarding Washington? Who does he think he’s guarding, then?

So they talked about it at halftime. And here’s the first play of the 3Q:

This couldn’t be easier. Is O’Neale supposed to rotate out there? Or, like, what’s the plan here that’s not “Let them have a wide open three with zero effort?”

They looked so, so lost out there. Gobert is awesome, but he can’t be this critical to the Jazz playing good defense.

2. That’s an unacceptable level of effort on defense

But a broken clock is right twice a day, and sometimes the Jazz did keep to a reasonable level of defense where there weren’t wide open players getting open for layups and threes whenever. And in those instances, they didn’t complete the play by actually forcing a miss.

Hassan Whiteside was looked as flat-footed as I’ve ever seen an NBA player. This play is Domantas Sabonis’ 40th and 41st points. It is a close game, late. You still have a chance to win. And this is the defensive effort given?

Before this clip begins, Whiteside was complaining to the refs about a previous free throw being interrupted by a lane violation.

Sir. You have played in the NBA for 10 seasons. How many lane violations have you seen called? Five? It’s just not going to happen, and certainly not in the last two minutes of a game. If a lane violation is distracting you A) during the free-throw, or B) playing defense on the next possession, that’s on you, not the referees.

Whiteside looked extremely lethargic all game long. It’s possible, maybe, that he’s still dealing with the after-effects of a concussion. But if he is, he should definitely not be playing NBA basketball. He should be back in the concussion protocols.

On the other hand, this is kind of Whiteside’s deal for his career: bad effort nights. This one was a bad one.

I have seen O’Neale play post defense, and he’s usually pretty good at that! This is one turn for a dunk from Sabonis.

Jordan Clarkson isn’t doing anything on defense here except guarding his guy on the perimeter. Except, you know, he’s not doing that: he’s just ball-watching.

Clarkson was a -30 in a 12-point loss; even one where he scored 18 points.

It’s interesting: according to the broadcast, Ryan Smith, Danny Ainge, and Justin Zanik were all with the team, watching this game in Indiana. They certainly had something to think about tonight as they consider trade deadline moves.

3. Donovan’s passing

It’s a bummer that the Jazz were so poor defensively, because Mitchell had a pretty incredible game: 13-27 shooting from the field including 6-12 from deep, along with nine assists. He really ran the show all night, and carried the Jazz to a good offensive night as a team.

This pass, especially, was Milos Teodosic-esque. If it were up to me, Royce O’Neale would go to jail for not shooting this: if you miss it, fine, but a highlight is there to be created!

I’m joking, of course. But that might be legitimately the best pass I’ve seen from Mitchell; just brilliant.

But I also loved a two of his other assists, where Mitchell squirmed just outside the paint, went up for the pivoting pull-up — and then found the open center down low. It’s just great to stay this in control, while keeping your eyes open for passing possibilities. And of course, the percentages on dunks are way better than turnaround mid-rangers.

That’s just smart: engage the big, then take advantage.

Without Mitchell in this game, they would have had no chance. But certainly, the Jazz need their other star back as quickly as possible — and more defensive continuity with or without him.