PORTLAND — The Utah Jazz are on a five-game win streak and have won 13 of their last 15 games. They sit comfortably at third in the Western Conference with a record of 25-9, two games behind the league-leading Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns who are tied for the first and second spot. Things look pretty good.
So why was Jazz head coach Quin Snyder disappointed after the Jazz’s 120-105 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night?
“I was disappointed throughout the first three quarters that we’d get a lead and then we let up a little bit,” Snyder said. “We didn’t extend it.”
This had been a talking point for the Jazz all season long. Earlier in the NBA calendar the Jazz were more worried about how they were starting games, and that they didn’t seem to have a sense of urgency until the game was close or they were forced to come back from a lost lead.
More recently the Jazz have been performing better to start games and have withstood runs from the opposition with a little more force, which is a sign of progress, but they are still relaxing at certain points throughout contests and not winning games with a huge amount of authority.
“When you’re up 10 it can go either way, you can either get up 20 or you can let them come back and cut the lead to five and then it’s a ballgame,” Rudy Gobert said. “It’s in those moments when we have to pretty much put our foot on their throats.”
It’s not just about getting a win in a certain fashion or being viewed as a dominating team. There’s more benefit to be had when the Jazz put a game out of reach early, the biggest one being that the Jazz’s main rotational players can get some extra rest down the stretch. It might not seem like a lot, but a couple minutes here and there can really add up at the end of an 82-game season.
The Jazz weren’t able to get that rest on Wednesday in Portland, with the starters needing to stay in the game up until the final minute of play to make sure the Blazers weren’t going to cut the lead to single digits.
For Snyder, when he looks back at the times when the Jazz have had an opportunity to build on a lead and have not, what he notices the most is more about body language and urgency than anything else.
“I just look at our demeanor,” he said. “There’s a kind of an urgency in those moments that I know our team has, but being able to find that mindset, not just when the game gets close, not just at the beginning of the game … but to continue to maintain that mindset and to continue to play with that urgency.”
Snyder said that what usually leads to a team cutting into a lead is not really significant. It’s more likely a couple of small things that lead to a five or six point run — a couple turnovers here, bad transition defense and then boom, the Jazz are playing in a two-possession game.
“So you just have to continue to lock in on those moments and make each possession more important,” Snyder said. “Because you either give a team a lot of life by extending the lead or you make it much more difficult for them to continue to compete at a level that that they need to come back.”