Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 102-77 Game 5 loss to the Dallas Mavericks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. “Playing for one another more”
I was curious what Quin Snyder would come out and say about Game 5′s blowout loss. Would he talk about the shotmaking? The rebounding? The point of-attack defense?
Nope. He led off with, and repeated, one point, though it was phrased differently at different times:
• “We need to try to create for one another.”
• “Our strength has been, versatility and the fact that we have multiple weapons. We have to be able to use that.”
• “To execute better, that means playing for one another more.”
At the key moment of the Jazz’s season, in a Game 5 stage where the winner is an 81% favorite to win the series... the Jazz’s inability to play together cost them any chance of even coming close to winning.
This play is kind of the spiritual peak of this, not least of which because of the TNT graphic on the screen showing the Jazz’s inability to score for four straight minutes. Donovan Mitchell gets the switch, but doesn’t really bend the defense, instead just taking the stepback.
In those situations, I just think Mitchell needs to do more to get the defense moving to get a great shot, rather than just a good one. Can Mitchell make that stepback? Absolutely. In a game where he hasn’t shot well, in a situation where his team could really use a bucket? I don’t love it.
I think you see that team spirit missing on the defensive end, too.
Hassan Whiteside does well to contain Dwight Powell here, but Jordan Clarkson kind of loses his man here, Mitchell simply moves less quickly than Finney-Smith, Whiteside helps (maybe too much?) and Royce O’Neale is late to help against Powell down low.
The Jazz weren’t a defensive unit there, but a bunch of players creakily moving individually. The Jazz’s play reminds me of a slow-moving group of cars after a stoplight turns green: one car doesn’t react until the car in front of it does, with a delay in between. It would a whole lot more efficient if everyone could just work together and go all at once, right?
But they can’t, because just like you don’t trust the driver in front of you to step on the gas the moment the light turns green, the Jazz don’t trust each other to do the right thing on either end of the floor. The result is disjointedness, sloppy play, and a dispiriting playoff loss at the worst time.
2. Some frank conversation about the rotations
Look, Mike Conley wasn’t the only player to play poorly in Game 5. Nearly everyone did.
But Conley’s been the Jazz player who has the widest gap between how he’s played and how he was expected to play. Conley’s finally healthy after missing some of the Jazz’s 2020 playoff run due to the birth of his child, and much of it in 2021 due to a hamstring or calf pull, depending on who you talk to. 2022 was supposed to be his chance to prove his worth, after a season of managing his minutes in order to make sure he was at his peak for this moment.
Readers, he has not played at his peak. He’s shooting 32% from the field, 21% from deep. He’s averaging just four assists and two turnovers per game. Frankly, he has not contributed defensively much, unable to reliably defend Jalen Brunson. When Conley is playing at this level, there is not much reason to play him.
Truthfully, the same could be said about Royce O’Neale. That one’s less surprising, as O’Neale’s frankly turned in a shocker of a defensive season. I swear, I used to love his screen navigation. Now, he’s a tremendous liability at it. According to Ben Dowsett, O’Neale was averaging 1.38 points per possession when defending a pick-and-roll, by far the worst performer on the Jazz.
And it’s a little bit discouraging how much the Mavs feel comfortable playing off of him on offense.
Luka Doncic is miles away from O’Neale here, and while O’Neale throws a good backdoor pass, Doncic is already in the paint ready to help. Meanwhile, Finney-Smith sinks down to help against Mitchell rather than switch, because Mitchell isn’t much of a threat to pass it back, nor is O’Neale much of a threat if he were to pass.
So, what’s the better alternative to Conley and O’Neale? Danuel House would be an obvious one, but he’s not been super awesome in these playoffs, either. Could you dust off Rudy Gay and at least get some offense? Could you play Paschall or Hernangomez more? Put a bet on the rookie, Jared Butler, in a Game 6? Trent Forrest, by the way, looks very far away from coming back: he’s doing motion-limited form shooting in practice, not moving much.
All of those are very imperfect solutions, but in an elimination situation, the Jazz need to be aggressive about trying new things, or else they’ll be going home.
3. Donovan Mitchell’s availability
Donovan Mitchell has a left hamstring injury, and will receive an MRI Tuesday in Salt Lake City.
Mitchell said that, after driving late in the fourth quarter, he felt his hamstring tighten up — a sensation he hasn’t felt before. He limped off the floor directly to the locker room, then was still limping when meeting with the media postgame. His eyes were red, too — likely a reflection of his frustration about the injury and the result.
Still, when asked if he was going to play in Game 6, Mitchell said: “I’ll be fine.” When asked if he would play through pain in order to play in Game 6, he said: “We’ll see how it is, but I’m a competitor.”
But hamstring injuries can overcome competitive spirit. Even a Grade 1 strain likely means an absence of a couple of weeks — just look at Devin Booker’s situation in Phoenix. There’s a chance, I suppose, that Mitchell’s injury was more akin to a cramp or a bruise than a pull, but in that case, I wonder if he would have been limping half an hour after the game ended as he was.
We’ve learned, though, that Mitchell has significant control over his own availability for games: he played through an obvious ankle injury at the end of this season, for example, and successfully overrode the Jazz’s training staff after Game 1 of the playoffs last season. Whether it be folly or ferocity, Mitchell will play if it’s close.
Regardless, the injury may have been avoidable. I think it’s reasonable to ask if Mitchell should have been on the floor, with the Jazz having a 28-point deficit with just under six minutes left at the time of the injury. We don’t really know if that was Snyder or Mitchell’s call, though we should note that Snyder has leaned toward keeping his guys in the game well beyond the point of games being decided throughout his Jazz tenure. The Jazz have largely avoided the consequences of that so far, but it may have caught up with them at the worst time.
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