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Utah Jazz lose to Phoenix Suns and lose their defensive identity

Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (3) and Utah Jazz guard Joe Ingles (2) fight for the ball during an NBA game at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020.
Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (3) and Utah Jazz guard Joe Ingles (2) fight for the ball during an NBA game at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Remember that 10-game win streak the Utah Jazz had in December and January? Remember when the team won 19 of 21 games that included that streak?

That’s not the team that you’ve seen over the last three games and it certainly isn’t the team that played Monday night.

“Right now that’s not who we are,” coach Quin Snyder said after the Jazz lost 131-111 to the Phoenix Suns. “Who you are is who you are now, not who you’ve been, or what you’re going to do, or what you can do. It’s what you do. What we did tonight wasn’t good. Obviously that’s an understatement on a lot of levels.”

The Utah Jazz had just forced Phoenix into a shot-clock violation midway through the fourth quarter, picked up a couple points off free throws from Rudy Gobert, then chased the Suns around forcing two bad shots from Devin Booker.

It was consecutive, well-played defensive possessions. But it was two of too few during an embarrassing loss at Vivint Arena on Monday night.

Royce O’Neale came away with the rebound after Booker’s miss and the sequence of events that followed encapsulated the Jazz’s night and the way they’ve been playing of late.

Unaware of who was around him or how close they were, O’Neale was picked off near mid-court as a trailing Ricky Rubio came from behin,d and poked the ball away, not only preventing any sort of Jazz fast break, but taking the possession away from them altogether.

Booker, also behind the Jazz, was waiting at his own 3-point line, wide open with no one to impede his shot. He missed the trey, but the Jazz players that were near the basket were completely devoid of any sense of defense as Mikal Bridges flew in for an easy put-back jam.

With that, the Suns were leading by 15 with less than six minutes to play and the crowd slowly started trickling out of the arena as the Jazz lost their third straight game at home.

“It’s more than a lack of execution, but a lack of commitment to the things you need to do to win,” Snyder said. “We’re going to keep getting the same result if we don’t focus and execute on the defensive end.”

After losses to San Antonio and Houston on Friday and Saturday the Jazz said that they weren’t matching the opponents energy level, that they weren’t focused, that they lacked the intensity level needed to win.

On Monday after a loss to a Suns team that they absolutely should have beaten, the Jazz were out of excuses.

“There’s nothing else to say,” Donovan Mitchell said. “I can give y’all a thousand reasons, but we’ve just got to go out there and do it. Otherwise we’ll be home in May.”

That’s where the Jazz’s mindset is right now. They do not recognize the team that they are. The defensive identity that once ruled the Jazz locker room has seemingly disappeared and has Jazz players questioning who they are.

If the last three games are an indication of what the Jazz are capable of, the answer is that they are incredibly mediocre. They can hang in with teams but they don’t have the defensive answers to pull out wins down the stretch and they tend to fall aspart as the game wears on.

Though Joe Ingles isn’t willing to say that the team has lost its identity, he too feels the weight of the losses.

“When you play the way we’ve been playing, there’s a lot more bad than good right now,” Ingles said. “It’s draining. ... It’s just embarrassing.”

Whatever seems to be the reason for the Jazz’s defensive lapses and breakdowns seems to be intangible and that is what is most frustrating for the players. They know that they’ve been able to beat good and bad teams alike and they know they have the talent and ability, but for an unknown reason things just aren’t clicking.

The Jazz are now winless since the All-Star break, a time that’s usually looked at as a rejuvenating period for teams so that they can come back to the last part of the season with fresh eyes and renewed energy.

Instead the Jazz have come back from the break without energy, and without a commitment to the things that made them a playoff contending team.

And, as Ingles said, night after night of teams coming into Vivint Arena playing freely, getting where they want when they want, and doing it with a smile has drained the life out of the Jazz.

The team has run out of excuses and there are no more breaks to be had. They have to figure out what the problem is and they have to do so quickly.

The opponents won’t always be the Phoenix Suns, a young and hungry team who is lucky to get wins against the better teams in the league. On Wednesday the Jazz will host the Boston Celtics, a 39-17 team that is as capable as any team in the league right now.