With effort in short supply from the outset, Utah falls into early hole it can’t recover from, then laments its familiar pattern.
“We just didn’t do much right tonight, and that can’t happen. It’s been the story all season,” Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said in the aftermath of Tuesday’s humiliating 130-96 loss in Brooklyn. “What are we, 4-3? Whatever it is, that’s indicative of our play. We have two and a half good games, then three bad ones. So it’s like we’ve got to figure out who we want to be right now. … We have time to turn this around, but we need to start now.”
Yeah, even some of the Jazz players recognize it as a too-familiar refrain.
“We’ve been saying the same thing,” Rudy Gobert acknowledged. “We play well one game then the next game we don’t play well. And if you want to be a great team, we have to find a way to bring it every single night.”
There was an expectation ahead of this season that the Jazz might be able to get off to a quick start, owing to their continuity. Problem is, continuity doesn’t count for much if there isn’t corresponding effort.
Pretty much from the opening tip, the difference in hustle between the teams was apparent and palpable. The Nets, missing Kevin Durant to the league’s health and safety protocol, came out motivated and energetic. Utah looked like a team that knew its opponent was missing its best player.
The 20-4 lead Brooklyn accumulated in the first half of the first quarter pretty much told the story.
While Kyrie Irving abusing Royce O’Neale to the tune of 18 opening-quarter points on 7-for-7 shooting didn’t hurt, what really made the difference for the Nets was the simplicity of them playing harder. O’Neale died on screens. Jarrett Allen was a wrecking ball in the paint. After corralling misses, Brooklyn players took off running, and racked up 12 fast-break points in the opening 12 minutes.
The tone was set: The Nets were going for the jugular; the Jazz were going through the motions.
“Well, to begin with, we didn’t have urgency. I don’t think there was really anything we did well — beginning with transition early, not getting back with urgency, we didn’t contain the ball,” said coach Quin Snyder. “Probably the overall theme was our inability to protect the paint. If the ball gets in there that easy, there’s not a lot of good things that are going to happen. It’s going to be tough to recover. … It started with transition and it permeated everything we did defensively.
“Certainly there was a lack of intensity and focus on the defensive end at the beginning of the game,” he added. “… Whatever the reasons are, none of them are excuses. We just we played really, really poorly.”
The final numbers back up that assessment.
The Nets shot 55.9% overall, and while they had a successful night beyond the arc (14 of 36), they dominated inside, racking up a 68 points in the paint. They ran their way to 20 fast-break points. They turned 16 Jazz turnovers in 27 points. And just hours after rookie coach Steve Nash expressed concern about how his team has been getting outworked on the boards, Brooklyn went out and earned a 51-42 rebounding advantage, too.
A big part of the outcome was the way that Allen — making a surprise first start start of the season — thoroughly outplayed Gobert.
The Frenchman finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, but struggled to finish looks over the athletic Allen, going 3 for 10 from the field. Allen, meanwhile, went directly at his counterpart and converted on a variety of nice post moves over the top. He also ran the court well and constantly put himself in good position — to the tune of 19 points (on 8-for-9 shooting) and 18 boards.
“I just didn’t bring it tonight, especially in the first quarter. I have to set the tone for my team, for my teammates, every single night. And tonight I didn’t start the game with the intensity that I should have,” Gobert said. “… [Allen] played a good game, he is a good player, but I started the game soft. And that started to give him confidence — give him confidence that he could do anything he wanted, and he did pretty much do that throughout the game.”
Still, this game wasn’t just about Gobert getting worked over by Allen. Or O’Neale failing to even challenge, let alone slow down Irving (29 points, six rebounds, five assists in total). It’s not even about Mitchell being pretty much the only Jazz player to have a modicum of offensive success (31 points on 10-for-22, including 3 of 8 from deep) against a team that came in allowing 123.5 points per game in its previous four outings.
No, as Mitchell, pointed out, this was about an avalanche of little things they all failed to do: sprinting back in transition, taking care of the ball, working the glass, dislodging Allen, re-routing Irving.
And so, here we are again — consistently talking about consistency.
“That’s where our problem is — just having the same sharp-minded mindset from the jump, not getting punched in the mouth and then saying, ‘Oh, s—, we’ve got to play,’” Mitchell added “… It doesn’t matter if we hit five shots to start the game or miss five — we’ve got to be the same team defensively. We just weren’t that tonight.”
NETS 130, JAZZ 96
Key moment • With the Jazz down 9-2, Quin Snyder called timeout, looking to reset and shift momentum. Instead, Brooklyn did more of the same, expanding its lead to 20-4 and forcing Snyder to use another timeout.
Big number: 9 • Kyrie Irving, looking far too comfortable and rarely challenged, let alone slowed, made his first nine field-goal attempts.
Up next • The second half of the Jazz’s New York back-to-back takes place Wednesday against the Knicks. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m.