Well, those who argued that the Utah Jazz’s feel-good start was too good to be true certainly would appear to have seen their case bolstered after Tuesday night’s game — a disjointed, lethargic, sloppy performance which resulted in a third consecutive defeat, this one by a 118-111 margin against the Knicks.
The shine has worn off, the facade has cracked, the bottom has dropped out, the other shoe has fallen, et cetera, et cetera.
Unsurprisingly, the Jazz remain defiant toward their detractors.
“Obviously, we’ve got some stuff to shore up, some stuff we can do better throughout the game, but it’s not like we’re going through this three-game losing streak like, ‘Damn, we had no chance at any game; we need to go back to the drawing board and rip up everything,’ you know?” Kelly Olynyk said afterward. “In that sense, I mean, we’re still right there, still competing.”
That much is true. But is it enough anymore?
Were these three straight defeats merely the byproduct of a perfect confluence of an onerous schedule, some natural regression, and opponents now having enough film on a young coach and a duct taped-together team to start honing in on and exploiting tendencies?
Or has the revelation and exploitation of serious flaws only just begun?
There certainly were a few to dwell on and obsess over after this game, anyway. For starters …
“It was turnovers,” Jordan Clarkson said, when asked what the players discussed as they filed back into the locker room. “Live-ball turnovers. We’ve been preaching transition defense. That’s it, really.”
He noted with disappointment that he had five of the Jazz’s 21 miscues against New York.
Coach Will Hardy noted that those 21 turnovers led to 24 points for the Knicks.
Both Collin Sexton and Malik Beasley noted at the team’s shootaround before the game that improving transition defense has been an ongoing point of discussion the past few days, which Mike Conley noted again afterward.
“Them getting in transition really hurt us — that’s been kind of a theme the last few games,” he said.
Indeed, in the preceding loss to the Sixers, 18 Jazz turnovers led to 23 Philly points.
The point guard pointed out that the effort has been there — players are running — but the communication is lacking.
Hardy said a big part of the problem is that sometimes players get so fixated on locating a specific opponent in transition, that no one bothers slowing the guy right in front of them.
“It’s continued focus on: 1) It’s not about finding your matchup, it’s about stopping the ball and finding any player on the other team to match up with; 2) We have to do a better job of not giving up layups in transition,” he said. “There are a ton of cross-matches — we’ve talked about this the last couple of days — there’s a lot of cross-matches based on how we play and how much switching there is in the NBA, so it tests your communication in those moments to be able to get back and just get the ball stopped.”
Beyond that, the Jazz’s defensive rebounding performances have been up-and-down of late. They surrendered 17 offensive rebounds to the Hawks, then did well in the back-to-backs against Washington and Philadelphia, only to be hurt again by the Knicks, who got 13 offensive boards and turned them into 19 points.
The team has mentioned on multiple occasions this season that there have been too many times where they’ll defend an initial action well, force a miss, cede an offensive rebound, and then fall apart defensively on the ensuing possession.
That, in combination with the fast-break points allowed, proved fatal against a less-than-stellar Knicks team. A Jazz team which has succeeded largely thanks to out-hustling its opponents got out-hustled on Tuesday.
“They came in with great energy and beat us on the glass, beat us in transition — they beat us doing the things that we pride ourselves on doing,” Hardy said.
Perhaps it’s no big surprise. The early schedule was not kind to the team, front-loaded as it’s been with quality opponents.
Beyond that, the arrangement of their home vs. away schedule hasn’t helped. To this point, they’ve had but a single instance of two-game homestand; by contrast, they’ve already had a trio of three-game road trips.
“People say Utah is beautiful — I have no clue, I haven’t seen it,” Olynyk said pointedly.
So they’re relishing this week, which included a day off at home Monday, Tuesday’s game at Vivint Arena, and which will feature a practice Wednesday, another off-day Thursday, and then another home game Friday vs. Phoenix, before hitting the road again.
They are hopeful they can rediscover some of their previous mojo in that time, that they can fix the spacing issues which have contributed to dubious decision-making and poor shooting both at the rim and beyond the arc (they connected on just 32.6% from deep vs. the Knicks, 29.7% against the Sixers, and 35.0% vs. the Wizards).
In spite of those issues, Clarkson echoed Olynyk’s sentiment that the Jazz were never truly out of any of those three consecutive defeats, which indicates to them that they are a few solvable problems away from being back to the team that befuddled and delighted observers by racing out to the best record in the Western Conference prior to this skid.
“You can’t reinvent the wheel. You have to keep playing. You’re going to have ups and downs — in a game, in a season, in a quarter, whatever it is,” said Olynyk, who had a game-high 27 points and a team-high 11 rebounds vs. New York. “You can’t overreact to things, and, you don’t want to underreact; you’re never as good as people tell you, you’re never as bad as people tell you.”
Conley noted that as players returned to the locker room Tuesday, they were not dejected but analytical. They weren’t waiting for Hardy to break down their flaws, to spell out their shortcomings. Instead, they discussed among themselves where they failed, and where they can improve …
And how there’s no need to panic, because they believe they can get back on track.
“We understand there are things we’ve got to clean up, but you’re gonna hit spells like this,” Conley said. “We’re going to play good teams and we’re going to lose tough games, and it’s about how we respond from there.”