HOUSTON — Donovan Mitchell stood, looked up and exhaled slowly.
This wasn’t the start he or any of his teammates had envisioned. The Utah Jazz have been outhustled, outplayed and run off the Toyota Center court. And it’s happened twice.
That is enough to make you let out a deep, slow sigh.
“I didn’t show up,” Mitchell said. “I really don’t have much to say. I just didn’t play well.”
If you ask the Jazz, it’s not about schemes. They know James Harden is going to go off, no matter what they do, and they feel they have been getting good enough looks out of their own offense. But there has been something missing.
“They played really good, but I think it was more us not playing with confidence,” Ricky Rubio said. “I think we have to play with confidence on both ends of the court. We haven’t had any good stretch where we feel like the team we are.”
They haven’t felt like it. And they sure haven’t looked like the team that ran through the second half of the season with the league’s top defense and second-best record.
Mitchell said it comes down to execution, but it goes even further than that. He felt the Jazz haven't had enough intensity or focus or effort in the first two games of the playoffs.
The Jazz started the game with two straight turnovers, as players dribbled the ball off their feet out of bounds. Sure, the Rockets were playing aggressive, but it was still the Jazz played who dribbled the ball out of bounds.
“They’re ready to go,” Mitchell said. “We weren’t from the jump and it’s hard to come back when they're as good as they are.”
Utah hasn’t yet found that extra level of focus and intensity that it takes to win in the playoffs.
The same type that James Harden, who had 17 points, four assists and four rebounds after just the first quarter, and the entire Rockets team have had to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
It's cliche, but every rotation, every possession matters, every shot really seems to matter more in the postseason — but the Jazz have yet to play like that’s the case
They’ve made careless mistakes on the defensive end by missing rotations and rebounds. The Jazz have allowed the Rockets to not only frustrate them, but embarrass them until the possessions actually do stop mattering because the game is so far out of hand.
“It doesn’t matter, as far as schemes go, if we don’t have that intensity and that effort,” Mitchell said. “The coaches can draw up a great game plan, which I think (Quin Snyder) has, we just haven’t executed it well.”
And if the Jazz want a chance to get back in the series, that has to change.
“We can say whatever we want, but if we're too nice, they're not going to respect us and we are going to get our (butt) kicked every night,” Rudy Gobert said.
So far, it’s only been two nights. And with the next two games in Salt Lake City, there’s hope that things can turn around quickly. But the passionate Utah crowd can’t be the only thing to show up. The Jazz need to show up, too.
“It’s all about heart, it’s all about pride,” Mitchell said. “I’m not saying none of us have heart, we all have heart. We've seen it, we’ve all seen it. We gotta find it.”