TORONTO — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder was a little slow to get to the media huddle following Sunday’s at-times embarrassing 130-110 loss to the Toronto Raptors. He had a few other people to talk to first.
Namely, his players.
“Yeah, he was talking to us and basically was how bad do we want to be a good team?” Mike Conely said about the postgame meeting. “How bad do we want to win? Are we willing to sacrifice and do the little things?”
On paper, the Jazz look to be among the elite teams in the league. They have a dynamic player in Donovan Mitchell, they have one of the league’s best secondary scorers in Bojan Bogdanovic, the best defensive player in the world in Rudy Gobert, and a steady hand at the point with Conley.
They are talented enough — if not a bit shallow — to be considered a contender. And while a 12-8 record to start the season isn’t bad, the first question that Conley said Snyder posed to the team is appropriate considering how this road trip has gone.
There’s no denying the Jazz’s current five-game swing is a beast. Milwaukee, Indiana, Toronto and Philadelphia make up four of the top six teams in the Eastern Conference, Traveling is hard, players get tired, opponents are better rested — the list goes on. But the thing is good teams often can handle that. At least handle it better than the Jazz have shown in this last week.
They were blown out by Indiana, they were down 15 to Memphis before storming back and they trailed by 40(!) to Toronto before “only” losing by 20. That’s not a sign of a contender. Heck, it’s not even a sign of a good team.
“Other great teams, they start the game well and they finish the game well,” Gobert said. “You can’t just start a game like we did and think that we are going to just come out in the third and win the game as we did in Memphis. We have got to have a chip on our shoulder and it’s got to start at the first minute and every time we punch first, we are going to be in a good position to win the game.”
The Jazz haven’t punched first lately. And have been slow to deliver a counter-strike, too. Utah gave up a run of 30-5 in the first quarter in Toronto and followed that up by surrendering one of 22-2 in the second.
So what’s been the problem?
“I think maybe because we are worried about the wrong stuff,” Gobert said. “I think if we were worried about the simple things — which is running back, doing the little things, the rebounds — and then offensively, just be aggressive and move the ball, all the other things are going to take of themselves.”
So you can chalk up the struggles to being on the road or having tired legs, but the players admit that there is more to it. There hasn’t been a focus on the right things or enough of urgency in their play.
Conley questioned aloud how the team could possibly have a lack of focus when playing the defending champions that were (and still are) undefeated at home.
"We didn't match their energy at all,” he said. “We knew it was gonna be physical, we didn't handle the ball well, we didn't get back on defense, we didn't do little things that the good teams do."
The good news is it’s still early and this week could prove to be nothing but a blip in a successful season. And the narrative can all change on Monday with a win in Philadelphia.
That’s the nature of the NBA — it’s a story with plenty of chapters. But when discussing Utah’s record-breaking 49-point third quarter, Conley did have some potentially revealing words about his team.
“We started being more physical, not worrying about foul calls, not worrying about contact, playing through things, not being so cool,” he said. “Just kind of getting into that uncomfortable zone and talk to the guys and just be OK being uncomfortable, and try to work in that zone.”
And until the Jazz start playing consistently in that zone and start to do the “little things” (and do them early), it’s fair to question just how good this team really is.
“He (Snyder) knows how good we can be and knows how we can get there,” Gobert said. “We do know that too, but it's on us to all get on the same page and all focus on the little things that can help us win and not in the third quarter but in the first quarter.”