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If the Utah Jazz want to avoid elimination, defensive miscues must go

If the Jazz want to win Game 6 against the LA Clippers, they’re going to have to get tighter on the defensive end.

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) and LA Clippers guard Rajon Rondo (4) wait for play to resume during Game 5 of their NBA playoff series in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. 
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The Utah Jazz are hobbled, hurt, sore and they’re down 3-2 in the best-of-seven second-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Despite everything, they still feel like they have a chance to come back in this series. If they’re going to accomplish that, they’re going to have to get tighter on the defensive end and stop giving up easy buckets to the Clippers after defensive breakdowns and miscommunications.

While the Jazz came out hot on the offensive side of things in Wednesday’s Game 5, they were far too relaxed on the defensive end.

“In a way, I wish we would have missed shots,” Rudy Gobert said after the Jazz’s Game 5 loss. “Maybe we would have thought that we need to play some defense to win this game. And, you know, we just didn’t.”

In the example above you see Bojan Bogdanovic switch onto Paul George, and Royce O’Neale is either trying to negate the switch or help on George.

“There was different things on too many possessions where we tried to execute something and we didn’t do it at the level that we need to,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “I think those breakdowns open up even if you’re in rotations — which we’re going to be at certain points, particularly if we’re trying to give help on PG when he’s going. But those things, we’ve just got to be better in those areas.”

Basically the same exact play is run here, but instead of Morris, it’s Patrick Beverley who comes over with a fake screen, Jordan Clarkson switches onto George, O’Neale helps and then it leaves Beverley wide open.

It wasn’t just that play that gave the Jazz problems though.

The Jazz were not great in transition, especially on live-ball turnovers like the one below by Georges Niang.

Not only does Niang make a bad pass, but then he is ball-watching on the way back down the court and completely loses an open man, Reggie Jackson, who knocks down a wide-open 3-pointer.

The Clippers were using the Jazz’s own weapons against them, giving them a taste of their own medicine, swinging the ball around on drive-and-kicks and the Jazz’s rotations were quick enough to keep up and the communication breakdowns were leading to open shooters, over and over.

Here George drives into the paint, kicks the ball to the right corner to Nicolas Batum, who swings the ball left to Morris and by that time Jackson was wide open again.

Clarkson had stayed glued to Luke Kennard, who is also a great shooter and though he wanted to rotate onto Jackson, there didn’t seem to be any communication between him and O’Neale on who would pick up Kennard. While the confusion was happening, Jackson hits the open shot.

“I just feel like the communication wasn’t there early on, the urgency wasn’t there,” Gobert said. “I think it’s just a collective mindset.”

Even the “non-shooters” like Terrance Mann were making the Jazz pay.

That might be an OK shot to allow Mann to take if it had not been such a close game, but every point counts in these games.

“When guys get open looks just because they’re a ‘non-shooter,’ we can’t give them easy ones,” Donovan Mitchell said. “We’ve got to get out there and contest and make them see a hand. ... All these shots, we’ve got to make it tougher. If we don’t, we’re going to be at home. We have no choice at this point.”