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September 22, 2021

'No let up': How the Jazz will try to find consistency on long road swing

SALT LAKE CITY — Sunday wasn’t the first time this season Quin Snyder has seen his Utah Jazz team play a nearly complete game.

Rudy Gobert led a stingy defense against the San Antonio Spurs and the Jazz fired on all cylinders on offense — those were the things that had many across the NBA, including Jazz fans, raising their eyebrows after Utah’s season-opening win over Portland.

What did the Jazz do for an encore? They laid an egg three nights later against Minnesota.

With that as a backdrop, it’s no surprise there wasn’t a ton of excitement over Utah’s 130-109 win over San Antonio Sunday at the AT&T Center.

“The biggest thing for this road trip is staying on it,” Donovan Mitchell said. “We can’t have a game like this — like we did against Portland — and then come back and we look like a completely different team. We can’t have that.”

The seven-game road trip they started on Sunday is a good chance to prove they can be consistently good. The question is how do they do that?

“I think as long as we keep the same defensive mindset and we come every single night with the focus on the defensive end, the offense becomes easy,” Gobert said. “Some nights, we might not make as many shots as we did tonight but I still think that if we take care of the ball and we play the right way, and we get the right shots and we play defense it’s going to be hard for us to give up games.”

The Jazz gave up a game against the Timberwolves, and they nearly did the same thing the next game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In those games, the Jazz made head-scratching gaffes on the defensive end — helping off a man one pass away and suddenly forgetting Gobert is the world’s premier paint defender — and buckled offensively when met with any bit of resistance.

Those mistakes were rarities on Sunday. But that didn’t cleanse the palette.

“I’m not going to get too excited when we play well,” Snyder said. “If we play well for a period of time, I think we can see that but we have to continue to do the things we need to do to win.”

That doesn’t mean the Jazz have to shoot 51% from three each game (they definitely won’t do that) or have to beat the team by 20 points (that either). It’s about playing in a way that they give themselves a chance. Utah’s good, but it isn’t good enough to ease into games or take possessions — if not quarters and halves — off.

“We had a presence every quarter and that’s not something that we’ve done on the level that all of us want to do,” Snyder said. “So that consistency throughout a game and then coming back again and doing it the next game and so on and so on — that’s what we’re looking for.”

The Jazz have now put together back-to-back good performances; but if anything, they are more focused on what happened last time they thought they had played really well.

“I think for us it’s very important to be aware of it,” Gobert said, “to come in every single night with awareness and see the way they’re gonna guard us. Like I’ve said before, we can attack against any coverage. We just got to make sure that we prepare for it. And whatever comes at us — it might take a few possessions, we might get surprised — we got to make sure we’re ready to stay aggressive, regardless of the coverage.”

Or regardless of the team, the margin of the lead or anything else; that was something Mitchell was pleased about after Sunday’s game. The Spurs made a 13-0 run in the second quarter with Utah’s mindless turnovers being the major culprit. The Jazz stopped the turnovers, and soon enough, the lead was extended again.

“It’s us being relentless, just continuing to just find ways to keep your foot on the neck, continuing to keep that killer mentality on both ends,” Mitchell said. “… Tonight was huge, but now it’s a matter of are we doing it again and again and again and again. That’s where we have to get to. it’s good to start off this way and I think we just got to continue to stay locked in and stay sharp. No let up.”

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