It’s no exaggeration to say that the first 20 games of the 2021-22 Utah Jazz season have been a sometimes joyless affair.
Despite having the highest-rated offense in the league, players have always noted that it doesn’t feel right to them. They have increasingly encountered opponents who avoid big defenses in favor of switching 1 to 5, and the Jazz have increasingly resorted to bullet stopping isolation to counter this. They were guilty of a decrease in focus and inconsistency in their efforts, allowing enemies to recover from deficits or linger much longer than they should and stay within striking distance. .
The nadir came in Friday’s home loss to the shorthanded and frankly not so good young Pelicans – a game defined by low energy, lack of urgency and an alarming amount of ‘me first’ play. . It was their second one-point loss to a lower foe in five days, following Monday’s loss to Memphis.
The aftermath was riddled with sad-eyed proclamations and low voices of woe and sorrow if things didn’t change soon.
“We’re letting a lot of games slip away that we should be winning, and at the end of the season we’re going to be feeling stupid,” said Rudy Gobert. “We’re going to look at the schedule and some of these games and we’re just going to regret that we didn’t continue to play the right way or that we didn’t close these games.”
“It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t feel good. It starts with the movement of the ball, the turnovers, the transition. Efficiency is just not great right now, ”added Donovan Mitchell. “And that [expletive]’happened twice in a week – games we should have won.
“We have established an identity with this team and we are not like them,” said coach Quin Snyder. “We know how we have to play – it’s just a matter of performing it.”
No one doubts it. The team, after all, have certainly beaten this theme into the ground after seemingly every loss this season.
If you know what to do, stop talking about it and do it! came the frequent refrain on social media from disturbed supporters.
In Saturday’s rematch against New Orleans, at least, the Jazz did. Ineffective and ugly isos gave way to moving the ball – throwing it forward, swinging it side to side – and, as a result, a 3 point avalanche made. Defenders rushed to shut down the transition opportunities. Concentration was maintained and the killer instinct was weakened as the lead increased to 20, 30, 40 points.
The post-game that night was marked not by the jubilation of the eruption, but by the determination to start stringing together more consistent performances – for more minutes in each game and for more games in. the season.
“We’ve had games where we would do it for a few possessions, but when we’re really good we do it the whole game,” said Mike Conley. “Everyone really fed on each other [Saturday]. … I hope we learn a lesson from that, just being able to go out there and play for each other and make sacrifices and see what kind of rewards we get for it.
“The things that were different tonight compared to last night are the things we need to focus on and continue to make them important no matter who we play, no matter the score,” added Snyder. “… This is something that we must continue to cultivate.”
He noted that on Saturday the team “focused on the group,” manifested in various small but meaningful ways – with players shifting their spacing a bit to create better driving and passing lanes; throw the ball more forward to put the opposing defense on its heels; run harder in transition.
“All the things that I know we know how to do, but we just have to make them important,” he said.
Conley concurred with this advice, saying it was imperative that Utah players “get rid of bad habits and work on the little things that can make us a better team” – boxing, playing faster, taking over. transition and commit to finding the open man.
Ball movement and passing have been particularly problematic lately for Utah. On Friday, they only assisted 17 of 36 baskets and scored 97 points; on Saturday they had 24 cents on 45 buckets and lost 127 points.
Everyone was aware of the need to improve in this regard. Jordan Clarkson recalled checking out the game, asking Mitchell to throw the ball to him on the wing, and being seized with an almost instant desire to shoot – even as Brandon Ingram moved closer of him – before realizing almost equally instantly that it would be a bad shot. .
“I was like ‘No. No no No. We can’t do it now. So I threw it at Rudy Gay, then Rudy Gay sank in his shot, and he knocked down a 3. Sometimes we just have to. let those shots pass to make the next ones, “said Clarkson.” … When it is flowing, the ball goes around everything, everyone touches it, and everyone feels more comfortable when it happens. has to be something we are more aware of.
This learning process has been too slow and too infrequent this season.
Conley pointed out on Saturday that “a lot of teams have adopted what has worked against us in the past from other teams that we’ve played in the playoffs. Their tendency is to try and stop the ball, keep it in the hands of two or three guys, or one or two hands, and make us win that way.
It dovetailed with Gobert’s scathing and scathing criticism of Friday: “I don’t know how many times we’re going to have to lose in the playoffs – I might be 30, I might be 40 by then – I don’t. not know how many years we will continue to lose in the playoffs and not learn from it. We do the same things over and over again. Hope we grow up. Hope it hurts enough that we put our egos aside and grow and play as a team.
For what it’s worth, players have proclaimed that whatever the perception, such tendencies and the defeats they engender also eat into them.
“Shoot – when we lose, it sucks. We all really care, and we care about each other. So it really sucks when we lose, ”Clarkson said. “… I don’t even know how many games we lost. Seven? Yo, those seven games seem like the worst thing that ever happened to us in the world. But what it pushes us to do is just lock in and understand. “
Everything looks good, but then again, fans have heard it all before – an acknowledgment of what’s wrong, a stated desire to turn things around, a momentary commitment to exactly that, and then a return to the same old patterns. . Lather, rinse, repeat.
The Jazz know it. And to think that it weighs on them. And insist that they take the necessary steps to get it right.
After all, no one likes basketball without joy.
“In the caucus [Saturday], we were just like, ‘Dude, have fun.’ Everyone is so tense and stressed. We all want to do the right thing. But we weren’t having fun like we were last season, ”Conley said. “Tonight was more of this atmosphere, where the guys were just selfless and running and boxing. The guys clapped for the smallest things, like diving on the ground. That sort of thing, we had been lacking for a few weeks or so.