UTAH JAZZ

Jazz Defense Exposed In Collapse To Pistons

Jan 10, 2022, 8:13 PM
Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder during a game against the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Im...
Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder during a game against the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz suffered another embarrassing loss, falling to the Detroit Pistons 126-116 despite owning a 22 point first half lead.

For the second straight game, the Jazz gave up a career-high in scoring to an opposing player, allowing rookie Cade Cunningham to go off for 29 points and eight assists in the Pistons come-from-behind victory.

The Jazz were shorthanded without Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, and Rudy Gay, but failed to take advantage of an opportunity to return to Utah with a victory, and dropped their third consecutive road game.

Jazz Perimeter Defense Is Bad

The Jazz having a subpar perimeter defense is no secret around the NBA as the team often relies on Royce O’Neale to guard the opposing team’s best offensive wing, regardless of whether that player is a true guard, or a bigger forward.

O’Neale is a talented defender, but the Jazz are asking far too much of the undrafted forward if they want to be a championship contender.

Earlier this season Los Angeles Clippers forward Marcus Morris called out the Jazz defense after a 124-103 Clippers loss.

“[Gobert] protects all of them, none of them really can defend,” Morris said. “Just funnel it to him, and it’s tough – he’s a great player and he does a great job of anticipation, staying down, being real solid. So, you know who they are.”

After watching the Jazz’s last two losses to the Pistons and Indiana Pacers, it’s hard to disagree with the Clippers veteran.

Though the Jazz were understandably tired — playing their fifth game of a five-game road trip while playing a new lineup every night due to the number of players they’ve lost to the coronavirus week, there was very little resistance to the Pistons attack when the Jazz needed to get stops.

Cunningham repeatedly beat O’Neale off the dribble getting into the paint and either finishing at the rim or kicking the ball out to open three-point shooters.

When Cunningham wasn’t getting layups, the Pistons were knocking down threes, connecting on 19-37 shots from downtown.

Gobert has missed just four games over the last three seasons, two of which came in throwaway games when the Jazz coaching staff was resting a significant chunk of the roster late in the season.

While that remarkable stretch of health for Gobert has made the Jazz one of the best team’s during the regular season over the last three years, it may have hindered the ability of the team to truly diagnose the defensive flaws that exist on the team’s roster.

“I don’t think there’s any mystery in that if the Defensive Player of the Year is not on the floor, you’re not going to be as good defensively,” Quin Snyder said after the game.

The problem for the Jazz is that Gobert simply can’t play the full 48 minutes in the playoffs, and when teams adjust to negate some of the impact Gobert has on the floor when they do meet up in the playoffs, they don’t have enough talent defensively to compete with the best teams in the NBA.

The last three losses for the Jazz have been difficult to stomach, but they’ve revealed a truth that needed to be told for the future success of the team.

Bad Losses Are Stacking Up

There are clear reasons for most of the Jazz losses to bad teams this season, including the loss to Detroit without three of the team’s top eight players in the rotation.

But at the end of the season, the losses will matter and the reasons for those losses will not.

The Jazz are 28-13 on the season, but of those 13 losses, six have come against teams that wouldn’t make the playoffs if they started today. Including the loss to Detroit, the Jazz have two losses to Indiana, a loss to New Orleans, a loss to Washington, and a loss to Orlando.

As of Monday night, the Jazz sit just a half-game ahead of the fourth-place Memphis Grizzlies and three games back of the Phoenix Suns for the second seed.

After finishing last year with the best record in the NBA, the Jazz have been lept by two teams in the West already and are in danger of falling to the fourth seed the next time they step on the floor.

At year’s end if the Jazz don’t find themselves with one of the top seeds in the Western Conference they’ll look back and blame the regular season games that they should have won, and with this start to the season, they’ll have plenty of options to choose from.

An Appreciation Of Opportunity

While the mass number of players that have missed games both within the Jazz organization and leaguewide is overwhelming, it has created new opportunities and important second chances for players on the fringes of the NBA.

There have been more than 100 instances of teams signing players to 10-day deals and hardship contracts in the last month alone, more than double the 41 players who were called up through all of last season, and more than both of the last two seasons combined.

And, those don’t include players like Valentine and House Jr. who were active free-agents who opted against signing with a G League team and preferred to work out on their own before getting recalled to the NBA.

For Snyder, who spent three seasons coaching with the Austin Toros of the then NBA D League, there’s a respect given to these players who’ve reached their dream because of the pandemic.

“In the Indiana game, when you see a guy like Keifer Sykes picking up full court, you see players that are really enthusiastic and appreciate the opportunity,” Snyder said.

Sykes is 28 years old and made his NBA debut with the Pacers on December 29. After two 10 minutes appearances to begin his career, the undersized guard has averaged 14.3 points, 5.0 assists, and 3.8 rebounds in 36 minutes over his last four games, and signed with the Pacers for the rest of the season.

The Pacers guard went undrafted out of Green Bay and has played for night different teams including two stops in the G League before landing in Indiana.

“They have tasted [the NBA] and had it taken from them or not been able to take advantage of it or got a stroke of bad luck — who knows what the circumstances are?” Snyder said of players who are making their NBA debut because of the pandemic.

“But usually there’s a level of appreciation and sometimes that doesn’t come without you know, some degree of failure.”

The Jazz return home Wednesday to face the Cleveland Cavaliers before heading back on the road for matchups with the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers.

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