PHILADELPHIA — There was hustle and bustle all around the Jazz locker room. Bags were being packed, staffers were pulling equipment out, and players hurriedly got dressed. This team was anxious to get home.
But with all that going on around him, Donovan Mitchell sat at his locker, seemingly in contemplation. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall.
It was a long night and an even longer week for him and his team. The Jazz went 1-4 on their eight-day trip — with the final three losses coming in blowout fashion.
They gave up 50 points to Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo, got waxed in Indianapolis, trailed by 40 to Toronto and then were down by as many as 26 points on Monday in Philadelphia.
“It’s been a long road trip, man,” Mitchell said. “It’s tough.”
But what can the Jazz learn from it?
Quin Snyder made a disclaimer. The Jazz coach didn’t want to make it sound like he was simply trying to sugarcoat things, but there was a positive that came out of Philadelphia.
His team, down double digits for nearly the entirety of the game and playing its third game in four nights, didn’t want to just throw in the towel. The Jazz played the fourth quarter out, cutting a 19-point lead at the start to just 7 with a little under a minute remaining. It’s a small thing. But that fact was important to Snyder moving forward.
“You’re in the hole like that, you look up and it can be overwhelming,” Snyder said. “I’m not trying to spin this like we’re rejoicing what happened tonight. We’ve got to play better. There are things we can do better. We’re going to improve. I feel good about that prospect given the fact we saw how we responded.”
It wasn’t just an effort thing, either. It was a smart basketball thing. Joe Ingles led the rally mostly by taking reins of the offense, penetrating deep into the lane and then finding good shots for either himself or his teammates. With Ingles in control, the Jazz mostly abandoned the long floater or pull-up midrange jumpers that have been so prevalent during this road trip (and, really, the entirety of the season).
In the fourth quarter, 14 of Utah’s 22 shots were at the rim (the Jazz made 10 of them) and another five were at the 3-point line. That’s more of the shot selection the Jazz want.
“Even when you don’t get the result that you want, we want to use the games to get better,” Snyder said. “To see Joe play as aggressive as he did and throw himself into the game, he made a lot of plays that we know he’s capable of making. He got himself going in a way that he hasn’t been able to do recently, as far as playmaking, leading and shooting.”
And the Jazz may have rediscovered who they want to be in the process.
“You build on what you do well and you work on what you do not do well,” Snyder said. “I think as much as anything, we have some guys that are still getting comfortable and still getting connected. There’s plenty we can do. Identifying those things, addressing them and knocking them out.”
There’s plenty to address: Why have the Jazz had so many bad offensive possessions? Why has the defense let leads balloon to 10 to 20 to 30 to even 40 (and, yes, the offensive struggles play a big role in that, too)? Why haven’t unselfish players like Bojan Bogdanovic, Mitchell, Gobert, and Mike Conley truly clicked yet?
If anything, the long disappointing road swing just illustrated what the Jazz already knew: There have been growing pains — maybe more than expected — and they still need to sort them out.
“Some of the times there aren’t opportunities to practice, so you have an opportunity to watch tape, guys work on stuff individually and players figure some of that stuff themselves, playing together,” Snyder said. “And as coaches, we look at what we are doing and address what we need to and help them.”
When asked about his takeaways from the road trip, Gobert pointed — not surprisingly — to the defensive end. His own performance against Indiana was bad and the team’s overall performance was lacking for much of the trip.
“We got to play defense in order to be good,” Gobert said.
Especially with the way Utah’s offense stalled out for much of the week.
“We didn’t trade buckets,” Gobert said. “They got a bucket, but we didn’t get that many buckets. … When everything gets tough offensively, put even more emphasis on defense and communication.”
There are reasons the Jazz have struggled this week. Bad offensive decisions, poor effort in transition, miscommunication — all of which are fixable. That’s the good news. Now, the Jazz have to do it. Or there will be plenty more of these type of weeks ahead.
“A lot of it is just mental,” Mitchell said. “We understand that things may not go our way, but we have to be able to push through. You saw it in the second half. You go out there and find ways to improve. It may not always result in a win but you take something from this and move on to LA (Wednesday's home game against the Los Angeles Lakers).”
It’s been a long week, but the Jazz are now moving on.