The Utah Jazz have played great defense this week, some of it on the court. Earlier this week, the players held one of those clear-the-air meetings that struggling teams often resort to, followed by a defensive interview from Jordan Clarkson, who said the meeting “ain’t none of y’all business.”
The next day, Quin Snyder, the Jazz coach who preaches tough defense, applied a full-court press to the press. He showed up for the Tuesday presser with notes in his hand and proceeded to defend his team during a 19-minute rant directed at some of the popular accusations that have been unloaded on his team lately.
Let’s put it this way, if the Jazz played defense this well against their opponents, they probably wouldn’t be sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference and trying to climb out of a late-season swoon. Maybe the team meeting and the Snyder press conference revived the team. The Jazz, who had lost six of seven games heading into the week, have won two straight.
It’s a start.
With two games left in the season (Friday night’s home meeting with league-leading Phoenix and the season finale at Portland), the Jazz are running out of time to figure things out. Their 48-32 record leaves them two games behind the fourth-place Mavericks. Who knows what to make of this team. They had the best record in the NBA only a year ago, with pretty much the same cast of players.
Snyder finally had had enough after the repeated circulation of the same perceptions of his team’s flaws. One of those flaws is a seeming inability to hold a lead, including recent losses to the Warriors and Clippers in which they held large double-digit leads.
Snyder suggested that maybe the Jazz should take the same strategy as jockeys who hold back their horses to prevent them from taking the lead until they reach the homestretch. Snyder was joking — we think. But it’s mind games like this that keep coaches awake at night.
“If there are things we’re doing in the fourth quarter that are hurting us, then, man, let’s fix them, but don’t let this turn into some sort of anxiety, ‘Oh, gosh, we’re ahead at the end of the third, what’s gonna happen?’” Snyder said. “It’s not true. Three times we gained the lead back. That’s a pretty resilient team. … Let’s be responsible about how we report these things.”
On Wednesday night, the Jazz took a big lead over the Thunder and were still pulling away at the end of a 137-101 victory. Back to you, Quin.
One thing the coach can’t refute is the Jazz’s hot-and-cold performance this season. They were 26-9 to start the season; they’re 21-23 since. They’ve had more mood swings than Will Smith, losing 11 of 13 during one stretch in January, then winning nine of 10, then losing six of seven.
Not to create more anxiety.
What seemed to irk Snyder the most was the notion that Donovan Mitchell doesn’t pass the ball to Rudy Gobert (those who track these sorts of things might have too much time on their hands). Snyder adeptly picked that one apart. It’s too convoluted to get into here, but we’ll concede the point.
“… Let’s just not try to drive a wedge between some of these players, especially using numbers,” he concluded. “… The inference there is he doesn’t pass and there’s a problem between the two of them. I haven’t seen that at all.”
Still, the accusation might be in Mitchell’s head the next time he has to make a split-second decision about where to go with the ball, speaking of turning something into “some sort of anxiety.”
This can be a dizzying intellectual exercise. Paging Dr. Phil ...
Well, this is not the time to panic — well, maybe just a little. The day before Snyder’s press conference, the players met to discuss their slump. Asked about it afterward, Clarkson said, “We got whatever it was off our chest. We talked about it, it ain’t like ain’t nobody care, but it ain’t none of y’all business, it ain’t nobody else’s business about what happened and what we do. We’re figuring it out, just like everybody else.”