If Quin Snyder’s “very poor” postgame rant following the Utah Jazz’s victory over the Rockets on Friday was meant to nip some post-All-Star break lethargy in the bud, it apparently did not have the desired effect.
Sunday’s 131-119 loss to the Golden State Warriors left the Jazz staring longingly up at “very poor,” remembering fondly the good old days of “very poor.”
No, the Jazz’s defensive effort Sunday at the Chase Center in San Francisco missed the exit to “very poor” and continued all the way on to embarrassingly deficient.
Golden State scored 33 or more points in three of four quarters. The Warriors shot 56.2% from the field and 51.6% from 3-point range (making 16 triples to Utah’s 15). They racked up 56 points in the paint. They sprinted to 19 fast-break points.
Steph Curry racked up 32 points and nine assists on his 33rd birthday without breaking a sweat. Draymond Green posted 11-12-12 for his 26th career triple-double. Andrew Wiggins, never known for being a bastion of efficiency, dropped in 28 points on 12-for-16 shooting. Bench youngsters James Wiseman and Jordan Poole combined for 34 points on 14 of 22 from the field.
Other than that, though, the Jazz’s defense was great.
“Our execution was such that we didn’t take enough things away, and they obviously capitalized on that,” Snyder said. “We’ve got to be more focused.”
Particularly ineffectual was Utah’s effort on transition defense.
All three of the Jazz’s All-Star players, Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, and Mike Conley, acknowledged that the defensive effort wasn’t where it needed to be, but also argued that some of the team’s offensive woes — particularly the 14 times they coughed up the ball — played a significant role.
“Turnovers hurt us,” said Mitchell. “I had four, [Bojan Bogdanovic] had four. That hurts — [not] being able to execute.”
“In the first half, our offense really affected our defense,” added Gobert, whose monstrous 24-point, 28-rebound, four-block effort was wasted in the loss. “We turned it over a few times. Every time we got them in the halfcourt, it was harder on them.”
“It wasn’t necessarily halfcourt; we were turning the ball over and giving them easy, free layups and free opportunities on the other end in transition,” agreed Conley, “and those are back-breakers in games like this.”
And indeed, Golden State scored 1.43 points per play off of steals, per Cleaning the Glass.
Poor defense off of turnovers were not even close to Utah’s biggest area of weakness.
Even more egregious was how often the Warriors generated a transition opportunity off a simple missed shot by the Jazz.
The Warriors racked up 1.69 points per play off of live rebounds, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Gobert again attributed much of that to the quality — or lack thereof — of the Jazz’s offense.
“Every time we were moving the ball and just getting off the ball, we were getting great shots, and even if we miss those shots, we’re able to get back and defend because those shots are just good shots,” he said. “When we dribble too much … the efficiency goes way down. Teams are doing a good job of putting us in a situation where we stop moving it.”
Conley agreed with that — up to a point.
The veteran guard was quick to point out, though, that there were areas where the defensive execution was simply lacking.
“We had a number of issues tonight,” he said. “I thought that our rotations were a little slow — we knew that we were going to be aggressive on Steph’s pick-and-rolls, and when that ball got moving around for them, they got some easy shots.”
The Jazz went into the fourth quarter trailing 95-86, but with Golden State set to rest Curry and Green for approximately the first six minutes of the fourth, Utah had n opportunity to make its move.
And they did. They pulled to within 103-102, and even had a chance to surge ahead before Golden State’s two stars returned. But Jordan Clarkson missed a 3, and Eric Paschall was gifted a wide-open jumper on the other end. Bogdanovic passed up an open 3, drove the ball, lost control, and Poole got a runout dunk. Just like that, the Warriors’ lead was back up to five, Curry and Green returned with 6:41 to play, and Utah’s last gasp was smothered.
Though the Jazz’s 28-10 record is still the best in the NBA, their once-comfortable cushion atop the Western Conference is now gone, erased by a mediocre 4-5 stretch.
Gobert said it’s incumbent upon Utah’s players to regain their defensive edge, and to do so in a hurry.
“Steph is Steph, but some of these other guys got way too much easy stuff. We could have done a much better job guarding,” he said. “We’ve just got to play much better defense as a team. Teams are going at us. We have to realize that if we don’t take pride on the defensive end — all of us, every single game — we don’t put ourselves in the best position to win.
“… We all got to look into the mirror, see what we can do better individually and and make sure that fits in to what we do collectively,” he added. “For the last few games, we kind of lost our principles defensively. We’ve got to come back to who we are, come back to what we do best.”