HOUSTON — Donovan Mitchell was nowhere to be seen, but not just on Sunday when the Jazz got incinerated by Houston. He wasn’t around for media interviews on Monday, either. Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio, Joe Ingles and even coach Quin Snyder took a hard pass.
Except for a helpful Derrick Favors, the only other Jazz player on hand was Thabo Sefolosha.
Which is only fair.
Someone from the bench needed to address what happened in the 32-point derailment.
There were numerous breakdowns as the Jazz got overwhelmed in the fourth quarter. These things happen. Houston’s lead jumped from nine to 32 while the Jazz subbed in players, trying to find a hot hand. The team defense, designed to keep the Rockets’ James Harden from hurting them from the 3-point line, was one thing, but keeping him out of the picture was another.
“It’s only Game 1,” Sefolosha said in a reassuring tone.
If anyone on the Jazz is qualified to say that, it’s him. He’s been in the league 13 seasons, with four teams. He knows the sun always rises the next day. But he also knows it doesn’t necessarily shine on you.
“Things worked, things didn’t work,” Sefolosha said, regarding the defense on Harden.
But when you lose by 32, nothing works too well.
The Jazz can only hope the situation in Game 2 isn’t as bad as it appears. All the old bromides are coming out: it’s just one loss, they can still steal one on the road, etc. Mitchell probably will be better in Wednesday’s game. Since New Year’s Day, he has seldom had back-to-back disappointments. He followed up a 5-of-17 shooting performance against the Clippers with a 46-point night to end the regular season.
For his part, Sefolosha simply shows up when asked. He’s there for the psychology as much as anything. Problem on Sunday was that even he didn’t come off looking good, nor did his bench compadres. That’s a major problem for the Jazz. Houston’s second team is better than anyone the Jazz can usually summon. Danuel House Jr., Austin Rivers, Gerald Green and Kenneth Faried all made at least half their shots in Game 1. The Jazz bench went 4 for 26.
There are slot machines with better returns.
It’s hard to have swag when you shoot like that.
Royce O’Neale went 1-5 from the field, Jae Crowder was 1-9. Raul Neto finished 0-2, Grayson Allen 0-2, Georges Niang 1-2 and Sefolosha 1-6. Kyle Korver, who was acquired midseason to improve the team’s distance shooting, didn’t even get off a shot.
None of this excuses a starting lineup that, outside Gobert, was ineffective. But the starters can’t do it alone. Someone has to help.
When you get beat the way the Jazz did, the reserves deserve credit, too.
“It’s on the team, you know?” Sefolosha said. “It’s all of us. There are 12 guys battling it out.”
That’s the message to the Jazz bench, namely to come back when it has something good happening. Mitchell alone can’t be the problem.
The Jazz say they can make adjustments to guarding Harden. But he always gets points. For the Jazz, Mitchell needs to return to himself. Combined with Gobert, they could flip the series with a single win, as they (temporarily) did last year. But a sure way to make that occur is by also bringing serious heat from the bench.
“There’s no pointing fingers,” Sefolosha said in his most soothing voice. “It’s on all of us to do a better job.”
In the 1950s, there was a film about a jury ready to convict a young man of murder, with only one juror believing in the suspect’s innocence. After much debate, the jury gradually shifted its opinion and delivered the right verdict.
The movie is called “12 Angry Men”.
The Jazz need 12 angry players to change their verdict.