The Triple Team: After Utah Jazz loss to Dallas Mavericks, NBA personalities decry ‘pathetic’ defense

Game 3 saw Quin Snyder and the Jazz go small at times, but Utah’s perimeter D remains a fatal flaw

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) listens to Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during a time out during Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, Thursday, April 21, 2022, in Salt Lake City.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 126-118 Game 3 loss to the Dallas Mavericks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. “I have never in my life seen on ball defense this pathetic.”

Some selected tweets from tonight’s game from national NBA personalities:

Look, it’s not that complicated. In order to win, you can’t play bad enough defense that national pundits wonder if you’re tanking the game.

My goodness.

Bojan Bogdanovic has had a better series than some, but this isn’t great:

The biggest defensive problem was “preventing the Mavericks from driving by.” But, sometimes, no driveby was even necessary: sometimes you can just run to the corner and get an open three.

The problem is not that the Jazz’s defense isn’t playoff-caliber. It’s not that it’s being exploited by the excellence of the Mavericks’ guards. It’s not that Jason Kidd is a masterful coach.

It is that, remarkably, the Jazz can be burned by no play whatever. You can literally just tell a second-round pick guard (Jalen Brunson, Spencer Dinwiddie) or mid-season buyout pickup (Reggie Jackson a year ago) to go out and try to score against the Jazz’s defenders, and they will.

That’s embarrassing. It reflects poorly on the defenders involved, it reflects poorly on coaching for allowing it to continue to be this bad (and that these defenders haven’t improved), and it reflects poorly on the front office for accumulating such a flawed roster. To lose Game 3 of a playoff series in that fashion, with the opponent missing Luka Doncic and highest-paid player Tim Hardaway Jr., plus against a hampered Brunson... well, it’s a gigantic failure. Maybe not a surprising one at this point, though.

2. Quin goes small ball

Quin Snyder cut Rudy Gobert’s minutes in order to play Eric Paschall more.

That’s an astonishing sentence to read. Even more astonishing is that... it sort of worked.

The Jazz were down by 17 when Paschall came in with a few minutes left in the third quarter. By the time Paschall subbed out nine minutes later, they were only down four.

The biggest key was that Donovan Mitchell was able to attack the offensive space really effectively. Watch Mitchell’s scintillating dunk again: Dallas tries to put defensive pressure on the ball, and Mitchell splits it. The real key is that Bertans is up at the perimeter, too far up to effectively recover:

Oh, and this happened: for some reason, without Gobert on the floor, those awful Jazz perimeter defenders actually started to defend. Look at the difference in effort given by Mitchell:

That the difference in defensive effort was that stark depending on whether Gobert is on the floor is pretty troubling. The most charitable answer is the one Mike Conley gave postgame, that with Gobert in the game, the guards feel comfortable “leaning on” Gobert a little, rather than staying in front. Maybe that’s a natural tendency, when Gobert’s defense has worked for so long, to get a little lax in those moments.

The other explanation, significantly more worrying, is that those defenders actively wanted to defend better when Paschall was in the game because they like Paschall more than they do Gobert, and wanted Snyder to be rewarded for making the move. If that’s the case, my goodness. But again, who would be surprised at this point?

Regardless, they went back to the Paschall-at-5 lineup late in the 4th quarter, and it did not work. They allowed two consecutive Brunson baskets in that short stretch, and Snyder went back to Gobert late.

Frankly, if the Jazz are going to trade Gobert this summer — and that certainly looks possible — it does not behoove them to take Gobert off the floor in the playoffs. It would be good, if the Jazz trade Gobert, that they get significant value back. Instead, I wonder if they go with Paschall instead of Hassan Whiteside more, and try to match Gobert’s minutes to Powell’s as much as possible.

3. The end of an era feels near

The core of this Jazz team has been together for three seasons now. They had two days of practice before Game 3, knowing they’d have to adjust to what Dallas brought in Game 2. Even ignoring dribble penetration, they knew they’d have to take more threes, keep the Mavericks off the free-throw line, and win the rebounding battle in order to win the game.

They did none of it.

From the opening whistle, they were out-smarted, out-efforted. They took dumb fouls — Gobert shoving Bertans while the Mavericks were in the bonus, Conley getting under a Trey Burke 3-point shot for a flagrant foul. The worst one of all wasn’t even called, Royce O’Neale blatantly plowing into Brunson causing him to miss the rest of the half, a cheap shot that the league will certainly look at:

The 3-point shot thing is really surprising to me: the Jazz had been so effective in the last few seasons in getting 3-point shots no matter the defense, no matter how teams defended pick and roll. And instead, the Jazz simply don’t have the cohesion to pass the ball around to the open shooters at this point. They’re limited in their own game.

On April 21, 2018, the Jazz played a Game 3 in a series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, with the newly-renovated Vivint Arena decked out in the new City colors — yellow, orange, red — section by section. Jazz fans got as loud as I’ve ever heard them. With spiritual leader Ricky Rubio earning a triple-double, the Jazz won a compelling victory that would propel them to winning the series.

It was perhaps the most enjoyable Jazz game I’ve ever been to. The stands were a beautiful sight, the crowd was as loud as I’ve ever heard them. Most importantly, the young Jazz were making a statement to the league, that they were a force to be reckoned with.

On April 21, 2022, fans wore those same Taco Bell sauce-colored shirts — but that color scheme will disappear next season. The fans booed the home team, as they disappointed them, yet again. The players lack any emotional cohesion, and all indications point to the team making significant changes during the offseason. These no-longer-young (and indeed, quite old at many roster spots) Jazz are on their way to failure, and there’s no doubt about it. Yes, there are games remaining in this series, but no one believes the Jazz are true contenders, no matter what occurs.

It’s a terrible shame, but it’s true: A promising era that started four years ago is dying before our eyes. The dreams shared in 2018 are gone, instead replaced by pessimism and dysfunction. Changes are around the corner.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.