Indianapolis • “I got lazy and didn’t get over a screen. I got lazy and missed a boxout.”
Donovan Mitchell had been in the middle of blasting the Utah Jazz collectively for Saturday night’s 125-113 loss to the Indiana Pacers when he suddenly shifted gears and used his own failures and shortcomings as a microcosm of the team’s latest disappointment.
One night after the Jazz generated feel-good vibes in Toronto by taking the fight to the Raptors in spite of sitting out all five starters and eight rotation players in total, they squandered the momentum with a listless, passive performance at Gainbridge Fieldhouse against a Pacers team that came in as losers of six games in a row.
Having duly acknowledged his own errors and shouldered his share of the blame, Mitchell then reverted back to the team-wide critique, issuing an urgent warning that, should the Jazz fail to start putting forth more consistent effort and focus, they are doomed to come up short of their ultimate goal yet again.
“Honestly, we did it to ourselves. That’s a winnable game for us. We shot ourselves in the foot with a few different things,” he said. “… This is a point where, if we want to be a championship team, we’ve got to do it every [expletive] night, and we didn’t do it tonight.”
Offensively, the Jazz were solid, if not quite incendiary. Mitchell had some dominant stretches, to the tune of 36 points and nine assists. Bojan Bogdanovic’s midrange post-up bully-ball sparked a third-quarter resurgence, as he finished with 21 points and six rebounds. And Jordan Clarkson rattled off nine points in a row in the fourth, keeping the Jazz lingering within arm’s length of the lead, en route to an 18-point night.
Problem was, with Rudy Gobert still sidelined by the COVID-19 health and safety protocol, Utah was fairly abysmal on defense.
Indiana shot 55% from the field and drilled 14 of 29 from 3-point range. The Pacers also racked up 32 free-throw attempts. Meanwhile, Domantas Sabonis got one open close-range look after another, and amassed a career-high 42 points on 18-for-22 shooting as a result.
“We gotta be more aggressive defensively. This is not who we are — a lot of easy buckets [allowed], especially for Sabonis early on,” said Bogdanovic. “Our effort has gotta be better all across the board. Bad loss, bad loss for us.”
Coach Quin Snyder noted that the Jazz “tried to do a lot of things” against Sabonis, but that none of them were terribly effective, owing to poor execution.
Hassan Whiteside, the Jazz’s starting center the past two nights with Gobert out, noted that Utah’s small-ball lineups were particularly ineffectual against Sabonis, although he himself had a rough outing, and acknowledged that he’s still feeling some symptoms from his recent concussion (although he denied that affected his play).
While the Pacers played well and deserved the season sweep they earned over the Jazz, Utah came away disappointed that it dropped its second road decision in as many nights.
Especially given that they all felt they should have been able to swing the momentum the other way.
Mitchell wants it to serve as a wake-up call, with a tough schedule waiting throughout the remainder of January.
“This is a winnable game for us, and the fact we didn’t hurts,” he said. “This is gonna eat at us. Hopefully that fuels us for Detroit and the rest of this month. That was a game where, if we pay a little more attention to the little things and do everything a little bit better … we win this game.”
Woulda, coulda, shoulda, whatever.
It’s hardly a new or unique development seeing the Jazz ultimately come up short against an opponent they ought to beat, simply on account of not consistently maintaining the levels of play they know they need to be successful.
Now the issue becomes: How do they make that happen?
”We had a couple games where we were defending pretty well, but I don’t know what’s going on. Once in a while, we allow teams to score a bunch of easy buckets. It’s all on us. Across the board, we’ve got to take more responsibility and be better defensively,” said Bogdanovic. “…It’s all about concentration and focus. … We gotta be better. Those kinds of errors cannot be a part of our game if we want to create something special this season.”