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Analysis: Without Rudy Gobert, Jazz’s defense struggles mightily in loss to Pacers

SHARE Analysis: Without Rudy Gobert, Jazz’s defense struggles mightily in loss to Pacers

Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis (11), right, reacts after scoring during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Indianapolis, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)


INDIANAPOLIS — The Utah Jazz lost 123-113 to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night, bringing their current road trip record to 2-2. They close out the five-game trip on Monday in Detroit against the Pistons.

High notes

  • Sometimes it’s hard to realize what you have until it’s gone. Obviously the Jazz’s deep bench players are not going to be as good as their usual starters, but the stark difference between watching what the Jazz did in Toronto with the backcourt of Jared Butler and Trent Forrest vs. the mastery of Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley was made even more clear since the games came on back-to-back nights. Mitchell and Conley are just so good at what they do. Mitchell is one of the most dynamic scorers in the league and he makes so many things that are difficult look easy. And Conley is just the epitome of a veteran who knows how to play in every situation and against every kind of defense. The Jazz are incredibly lucky to have those two pacing the team. Mitchell finished with 36 points and nine assists, while Conley had nine points, seven assists, five rebounds, and two steals.

  • The Jazz had a more full complement of their usual roster on Saturday against the Pacers. Of their usual rotation players, the Jazz were only missing Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles. Even though they were missing just two guys, Quin Snyder gave three replacement players some pretty significant minutes — Eric Paschall and 10-day players Norvel Pelle and Danuel House. Maybe there’s nothing to take from this, or maybe the Jazz are trying to see if there could be a longer future in store for one of the hardship players. Either way, it made things a little more interesting.
  • Royce O’Neale did a really good job defensively against the Pacers. He was forced to switch onto multiple guys, and he was really tough and stood his ground and made things hard on whoever was going against him, be it Chris Duarte or Myles Turner or anyone in between.
  • Center Pelle, with the Jazz on a 10-day hardship deal, gave so much effort on Saturday that it would have felt wrong not to mention it. He had some trouble finishing at the rim, but I think that feels natural for some nerves to be at play there. On the defensive end though he was tough and even when he wasn’t perfect and made mistakes, he didn’t give up.

Low notes

  • Offense looked great and the Jazz’s defense looked like it needed some help. 
    “Honestly, we did it to ourselves. I feel like that’s a winnable game was for us. We shot ourselves in the foot on a few different things...Like this is a point where if we want to be a championship team, we’ve got to do it every (expletive) night and we didn’t do it tonight.” —Donovan Mitchell
  • Domantas Sabonis had a career-high 42 points on Saturday. Good for him, and he’s a great player who is often underrated in my opinion. But from the Jazz’s perspective, you can’t let a guy have a career night on you just because you’re missing someone. Yeah, Gobert is a Hall of Fame-level defender, but the Jazz should be able to put up a little more resistance, which brings me to the worst part of the evening.
    “We obviously had difficulty handling him, particularly down low.” —Jazz head coach Quin Snyder
    “He had a great game. He got in a game with a couple easy buckets and then Lance (Stephenson) was doing pretty good job in the pick-and-roll finding him. It’s alway bad — you don’t want to be on that side of a great game.” — Bojan Bogdanovic

Flat Notes

  • The Hassan Whiteside minutes on Saturday were really, really bad. That’s consecutive games of being disappointed in what Whiteside has brought to the table as he’s started in place of Gobert. I have a few thoughts on this. First, I know that no one, including Whiteside, is ever going to look great when compared with Gobert, who is just so impactful that it’s impossible to match his abilities. I’m not expecting Whiteside to be Gobert. With that in mind, here’s what I think is going on: I think that when Gobert is playing, it’s a lot easier for Whiteside to really try and care. It’s easy because he has the example ahead of him of what he needs to do from one matchup to the next, because he only has to do it in smaller stints and against usually lesser talent as the reserve center, because if he doesn’t put up a big effort when Gobert plays, then he’ll look really bad by comparison. When Gobert is not ahead of him, the opposite is true across the board. We were all warned that this is the Whiteside that could be waiting for the Jazz, and here it is. Whiteside let down Mitchell, Conley and everyone else who was giving a lot of effort. He let guys walk right past him, didn’t fight for position or rebounds and only looked as if he cared when he was dunking the ball. He ended up making Pelle look like the better center. If he strings together too many of these games, I wouldn’t blame the Jazz for looking elsewhere.