Friday, September 30

Utah Jazz’s defense falls apart as they blow a great shot at stealing both games in Dallas

Jazz make some inexplicable mistakes, can’t get enough stops late, as the Mavs shoot 11 for 18 in the final quarter to tie the series at one game apiece.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) drives to the basket past Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson, right, in the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Monday, April 18, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Dallas • In Monday night’s Game 2 at American Airlines Center, the Utah Jazz’s offense constantly kept getting them out of trouble.

And their defense constantly put them back in it.

As a result, they wasted a prime opportunity to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series, ultimately falling 110-104.

Per ESPN Stats & Info, “the Mavericks made 17 uncontested 3s in the win, the most by any team in the past 10 postseasons.”

It started in the first quarter with Jalen Brunson and proved lethal in the fourth quarter with Maxi Kleber.

“There were a few early in the game where we had a couple breakdowns unrelated to penetration. … The latter stages of the game is where we all felt it,” said coach Quin Snyder. “The challenge is to do a better job containing the ball, and if we can’t do that, to come protect the rim and get out to the shooters.”

The 1-1 series now shifts to Salt Lake City for Games 3 and 4.

As Snyder noted, “I thought we were a step slow from the beginning of the game.”

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And indeed, the Jazz had to overcome a flurry of first-quarter defensive mistakes in which Brunson made them pay for repeatedly going under screens. The team’s usual sixth man, starting now in place of the injured Luka Doncic, went on an opening-quarter heater, drilling 6 of 7 shots, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, for 15 points.

Brunson was slowed in the second period (shooting 2 for 7), but Dallas as a team remained hot from 3-point range, drilling 5 of 10.

Still, with Utah doing work in the paint and at the line, they kept pace. The frenetic action was back-and-forth throughout, as neither team led by more than two possessions until Gobert’s pair of free throws pushed the Jazz’s advantage to seven just before halftime.

Still, every time the Jazz seemed on the verge of pulling away in the second half, Dallas would surge back, as those early defensive miscues became representative of the game as a whole.

Time after time, players either didn’t communicate or were simply confused as to whether they should switch or stay with their man.

As a result, it was Dallas that buried its opponent under an onslaught of 3-pointers.

The Mavericks wound up hitting 22 of 47 tries from beyond the arc. Kleber made 8 of 11 (seven of which were uncontested), Brunson 6 of 10, Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith hit 3 apiece.

“It starts on the ball. It’s all stuff we can fix,” said Donovan Mitchell. “We’ve got to keep guys in front, we can shift and make it tougher, the driving lanes were wide open. We’ve got to contain the ball and limit the wide-open 3s.”

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Such outside-shooting totals are usually the purview of the Jazz.

But once again, it was not a quintessential Utah onslaught, where they went crazy from beyond the arc. Indeed, for the second consecutive game, Utah was relatively subdued from 3, converting a solid percentage (37.9), but made total (11) and attempted total (29) far below the norm.

Still, they made great use of the in-between spaces — getting into the paint either for shots at the rim or in the midrange.

That the Jazz were consistent on offense at all was something of a minor miracle, considering foul trouble among their short-handed guard line was constantly messing with their momentum.

Mike Conley picked up three fouls — two of them of the take variety — in the first half after just 10 minutes of court time. His fourth came less than a minute into the third period. His replacement, Jordan Clarkson — one of the team’s most consistent bucket-getters throughout — fared no better, picking up his fourth foul with almost five minutes left in the third quarter, and his fifth foul less than two minutes into the final period.

Donovan Mitchell finished with 34 points and Bojan Bogdanovic added 25. Clarkson wound up contributing 21. But Conley — who tweaked his ankle in the first quarter — went scoreless on seven shots.

“When you’re taking the ball out of the net …” Snyder began. “I’ve stressed before the importance of needing to run.”

Still, this game came down to Utah’s failings on the other end.

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With the game in the balance, they simply couldn’t string any stops together. Dallas outscored them 33-23 in the fourth quarter thanks to shooting 11 of 18 over the final 12 minutes.

Asked if those defensive mistakes and the barrage of open 3s was worrisome, on account of that being how the Jazz were eliminated from the postseason the year prior, Mitchell expressed confidence.

“I’m not too concerned — I had a bad ankle and Mike had a bad hamstring. They were supposed to beat us off the dribble,” Mitchell said. “This is something we can fix.”

Snyder agreed that Utah’s players have the capacity to solve this problem — before it becomes a season-ending one.

“It’s not something that’s foreign to us, the ability to stay in front and not give up both directions,” he said. “… Rotating to the corner quicker is something we know how to do.”

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