clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Jazz mailbag: Why has Utah stopped moving the ball, and if it loses Game 7 is season a failure?

Utah Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson, left, looks to pass the ball as Denver Nuggets’ Gary Harris (14) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball first round playoff game Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Ashley Landis, Associated Press

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The Utah Jazz will take on the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 on Tuesday, after the Jazz fell flat in a Game 6 loss that forced a win-or-go-home situation for both teams.

I knew that you, the readers, would have some things to get off your collective chest and as always you delivered. Let’s get right to it.

I think that you have to look at the overall season and playoffs as a whole and then also look at this series separately.

If we’re looking at the whole season, with the up and down nature of how things went, bringing on a slew of new players and taking time for them to feel comfortable, while others were played out of the rotation entirely only to then be hit by the pandemic, the tension, the injuries, the social issues, the strange nature of the season restart, and being an underdog right from the start, I think that you could bottle up this season for the Jazz, set it to the side and be OK with a first-round exit without calling it a failure.

If you’re just looking at this seven-game series against the Nuggets, and the Jazz end up losing on Tuesday, I would call that a failure. I would call it so because the Jazz had every chance to take care of business. If they lose this series the way that they don’t let it become a failure that leads to collapse can only be decided next season. If they dedicate themselves to becoming better as a team and each player individually, focus on the shortcomings of their game and work to correct them so they don’t happen again, then it’s not a failure, it’s a learning experience. If they come back to next year’s postseason at full health and collapse in the first round again, then we look back on this playoffs as the first sign of failure.

Certainly having Bojan Bogdanovic would have made things easier on the offensive end for the Jazz and given them some more depth, but scoring has not been the biggest problem of this series. If the Jazz lose, there’s not going to be a massive overhaul of the team or even that many changes to be totally honest.

The truth of the matter is that there isn’t enough money, incentive or players on the market to make huge changes this offseason. And, considering that this Jazz team didn’t get to really play a full season together before starting the playoffs without two key players, I would say that blowing things up is farthest from what should happen. There will be little tweaks here and there, but nothing major even if the Jazz lose on Tuesday.

The Nuggets have turned things up on the defensive end, working to keep Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson out of being able to work in the pick-and-roll and that’s helped. But, more than anything the Jazz abandoned their offensive principles — space, movement, speed — in the last couple games.

Take a look at what Conley said on Monday after practice, referring to the first quarter of Game 6 compared to the rest of the game.

“Early in the game we just come out and we’re playing free and playing letting the ball lead us and letting the ball make plays for us,” he said. “And as the game goes on we tend to seek out different matchups ... and it slows us down a little bit.”

You can’t just hope to beat Jamal Murray or Michael Porter Jr. on every possession because you know they aren’t great defenders. Sometimes, yeah that works, but that is not when the Jazz are at their best. Instead, they should be taking on those matchups as they come in the flow of the game rather than hunting them.

“To get away from it is not a significant challenge but it certainly requires planning,” Quin Snyder said of playing heavily in isolation. “Unquestionably when we’re moving the ball we’re a better team. If you’re just looking for a matchup to create an isolation situation there’s times when that can be effective ... but we don’t want to live in that.”

First and foremost Royce O’Neale has to play better. He’s had more than one game during this series where he has failed to contain Murray and then also been hesitant on the offensive end. It’s not enough.

One of the most challenging parts of guarding Murray is that if you go under a screen you give him a chance to pull up from 3 and if you go over a screen, as O’Neale does most often, you end up chasing Murray and he’s too crafty to contain if you’re behind him.

The Jazz are going to have to do something different. That could mean more trapping, switching more often, or consistently rotating defenders on Murray or all of the above.

What’s most important in the case of Murray and of Jokic after he pulls Gobert out of the paint is that the Jazz’s rotations and help defense have to be better and then they have to rebound with more authority.

If you would like to have your question answered, you can send it to me at stodd@deseretnews.com with “mailbag” in the subject line, or you can send it to me via Twitter @NBASarah.