Utah Jazz point to 6 things they must improve to beat the Dallas Mavericks in Game 3

After falling apart in crucial components of Monday’s defeat in Dallas, coach Quin Snyder and Mike Conley spent Wednesday breaking down the keys to Utah getting back on the winning side.

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley, left, and Royce O'Neale (23) celebrate after a score by O'Neale in the second half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

On Wednesday, one day ahead of Game 3 between the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks, Quin Snyder was asked about what he’d seen on film from Game 2, and where things went wrong.

He broke down various issues over the course of 12ish minutes, but his general thoughts came down to two singles sentences: “The idea is to play better each game — I don’t know that we did that. But we have a chance to do that in Game 3.”

As he and point guard Mike Conley met with the media, they touched upon a few key areas where the team will need to make some adjustments and show definitive improvement going forward to pull out the best-of-seven series.

1. Stay in front

To be sure, some of the Jazz’s defensive issues in Game 2 in allowing 17 wide-open 3s were scheme-oriented. But so many more were simply perimeter defenders getting beat in isolation and yielding straight-line drives.

Conley said that if the Jazz want to win, that’s got to stop.

“We talked about it today — there’s no X’s and O’s; be clear on what you’re doing, and the clear thing is not to let your guy score,” he said. “Forget the ‘shade right’ or ‘shade left,’ ‘force him this way’ or ‘force him that way’ — it’s one-on-one, man up, and guard.”

Snyder added that overall defensive improvement — both individually and collectively — is imperative.

“Containing the ball has been a priority for us, [but] I think all of our guys feel we can do a better job there,” he said. “And then we still have to be in a position where we help each other — not just immediately on the ball, but the guy who helps on the ball. That’s team defense. We can do a better job there.”

1a. Avoid foul trouble

“I’m going to do the whole interview like this, with my hands up,” Conley said following Wednesday’s practice, his arms facetiously raised above his head.

He was limited to 10 first-half minutes on Monday by three fouls. And when he picked up his fourth foul less than a minute and a half into the third quarter, it destroyed not only his offensive rhythm (he wound up scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting), but also made him feel like, “I can’t guard anybody anymore,” for fear of picking up another foul.

When Snyder was asked what could be done to get Conley going in Game 3, he deadpanned, “Well, first, he can stay out of foul trouble.”

Conley acknowledged he tweaked his ankle in the first quarter Monday, but when asked how much that impacted his foul situation, he replied, “I think zero. … Just wanted to get it wrapped up real quick, ran back [in the locker room], ran back out … and fouled right away.”

Meanwhile, Jordan Clarkson, who actually did have an offensive rhythm going (21 points on 8-for-11 shooting), simply didn’t get enough court time to help as much as he could have, on account of five fouls in 23 minutes.

Conley said having two key members of the backcourt so limited (compounded by Trent Forrest being out with a foot sprain) made things difficult for everyone else, as a result of having to play longer stretches, and messing with traditional lineup rotations. So they’ve vowed to be a bit smarter in terms of fouling.

2. Rotate, rotate, rotate

Dallas committed all of three turnovers in 48 minutes Monday. Granted, the Jazz are not known as a team that generates prolific forced-turnover numbers, but three is an absurdly small number.

Snyder said there’s a good reason (or rather a bad reason) why that total was so low in Game 2.

“When you play in isolation [like the Mavs did], you’re going to have less turnovers, but it also speaks to the crispness of our rotations,” Snyder said. “When the ball is being passed out, we can be better in those situations, whether it be close-outs or rotating more quickly. Sometimes it just involves continuing to play throughout a possession where we’ve stopped and not made another effort to contest a shot — things like that where you put more pressure on them to make more passes.”

Meanwhile, the Jazz making simple mental errors in their rotations is a big reason why Dallas made 22 3-pointers overall, and 17 of them uncontested.

“We have to have each other’s back,” said Conley. “If Rudy helps, somebody has to help on Rudy’s guy. Rudy can’t be hesitant in helping, thinking that nobody’s gonna get out to the corner [and thus allow] a wide-open 3.”

3. Keep the ball moving

A frequent critique of the Jazz’s late-game offense is that it too often devolves into hunting iso opportunities, which too often result in forced, poor looks.

Conley acknowledged that while there are times when it’s advantageous — particularly in late-game situations — to look to exploit certain matchups, too frequently the team devolves into 1-on-1 play before it’s necessary.

“If we go to that too early, it can get our offense bogged down as far as our flow of things,” he said. “During the first three and a half quarters, we should be throwing that ball up, moving it around, everybody should be touching it, just playing free and fast. If we start too early hunting matchups in games, a lot of guys can lose a lot of rhythm.”

He added that Utah has sufficiently talented personnel that there’s no reason so many of their shots should wind up being forced looks.

“Having multiple threats in the fourth quarter, especially late, allows us to have that versatility that makes us hard to guard,” Conley said. “The best players in the world can just come down and iso, and at some point, [opponents] are gonna double-team and try to take that one player away; can the other guys make shots? We know we have [Donovan Mitchell], and we know he’s going to be great when he comes on in the fourth, [but] to have him sometimes be a decoy, and be in the corners and [defenders] thinking he’s getting the shot when really it’s for Bojan [Bogdanovic] or me or Rudy [Gobert] or somebody else keeps our spacing, keeps our offense flowing, and keeps everybody confident in what they can do.”

4. Better decisions at the rim

Utah’s shot profile all season long has been layups and dunks and 3s. They’ve not been getting a ton of any of those in the playoffs.

The bombs have been in short supply because the Mavericks have been selling out to keep Utah off the arc. Meanwhile, that’s resulted in a lot of drives inside. But while the Jazz have been solid in the midrange, they’ve been poor around the basket.

“We’ve been on the rim — we’re shooting 46% at the rim [in Games 1 and 2], and we’re shooting above 70% on the season. That’s not just Rudy, that’s all of our guys,” said Snyder. “To the extent that you get on the rim, we have to finish at the rim and [make them put] more of a premium on rim-protection.”

Asked why the percentages were so much lower of late, he cited a number of explanations, including bobbling passes and some random variance. He also believes that maybe some of those shots simply shouldn’t occur at all, that there are opportunities to keep the dribble longer and make a kick-out pass, and that the Jazz perhaps need to have more patience and move the ball instead.

Conley agreed.

“They’re doing a good job of kicking us off that 3-point line, forcing us into crowds. And as guards, or whoever’s trying to finish, we have to be more conscious of who we’re finishing over, or what’s a good shot, what’s a bad one,” he said. “Maybe pass up on a few to make an extra play, make a pass to get an easier one.”

5. Run more to make more and stop more 3s

“A big emphasis for us at the beginning of this series was to run, and we haven’t run the way that we need to,” said Snyder.

Hard to argue, considering Utah totaled all of three fast-break points in Game 2.

The coach is of the opinion that if the Jazz can get more stops or force more turnovers, then push the pace, they’ll wind up with more of the 3-pointers they’ve been deprived of.

“That’s important for us to be able to generate off-the-dribble 3s, or kick-ahead 3s, or skip-pass 3s, or to be able to get into the paint,” he said.

Conversely, more running by the Jazz is also necessary to stop the flow of 3s going the other way, too.

“They’re obviously seeking the 3 — they’ve been very transparent about that. It’s a little ironic, ’cause that’s something that we’ve wanted to do, and we haven’t been able to do it the way that we want,” Snyder said. “They’re running — they’ve run better than us — and a good portion of those 3s are coming in transition, where we’re not communicating the way we want.”