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The Jazz allowed the Spurs to get confidence early on, and they paid for it down the stretch

The Jazz defense allowed open looks in the first, and once the Spurs got some confidence, they heated up and took over.

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San Antonio Spurs forward Drew Eubanks (14) dunks over Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. The Spurs won 128-126.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The Utah Jazz have been pretty consistent lately, especially on the defensive end. Through their eight-game win streak, it seemed like a night-and-day difference compared to the streaky play they delivered in the early games of the season.

That inconsistent creature reared its ugly head again on Friday night against the San Antonio Spurs though, and the Jazz paid for it — rightfully so.

“They deserved to win that game,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said of the Spurs after the Jazz lost 128-126. “This is something we have to continue to focus on, recognize and fight — where we have lapses where we’re not as focused on the defensive end.”

The Jazz and Spurs were neck-and-neck at the end of the first quarter, and there was some really impressive offensive stuff happening for the Jazz, but there were a few times they let the Spurs get off open or completely uncontested looks.

A casual observer might think that the Jazz could have cleaned up some of that defense as the game went on, but there is a danger in allowing NBA players to have clean looks early in a game.

“We all want to have a good look to start the game, a good look to get into rhythm,” Mike Conley said. “When you do get something that’s kind of a workout shot for you, it does play well for you the rest of the game, and we gave them a lot of those opportunities...and you can lose games like we did tonight when they make tough shots at the end.”

For the Jazz, there is a clear correlation between not defending hard early in the game and the Spurs being able to hit tough shots when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter.

The Jazz walk away from their first loss since Nov. 26 wondering how things might have been if they’d come out of the gate with a little bit more focus on the defensive end.

“They came out obviously really aggressive from 3 and there were some uncontested 3s, there were some breakdowns, and that obviously gave them confidence,” Snyder said.

“When we had some opportunities to really extend the lead, we lost focus and were content to trade with them, and when you start trading and you’re missing and they’re making, you end up with a 41-23 third quarter. To me, that’s — it’s hard to overcome and turn it back on again.”

The Jazz led by as many as 17, but the Spurs caught the Jazz defense relaxing once again in the third quarter and then went into the fourth trailing.

If the Jazz had been more locked in early on, then maybe Dejounte Murray wouldn’t have been able to hit so many contested shots later on, maybe Keldon Johnson wouldn’t have been so confident in getting into the paint in the third, maybe Lonnie Walker doesn’t make a tough shot late in the fourth if he didn’t get into a rhythm in the first quarter.

“It starts from the jump, just being able to set a tone,” Donovan Mitchell said. “If we set the tone early — like we have been doing — nights like this won’t happen.”

Not often are teams looking forward to back-to-back games, but the Jazz were disappointed with how they played on Friday and are glad that they can turn around quickly with a game against the Washington Wizards on Saturday to right the ship.