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SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell thought his team was ready.
The Jazz had two post-All-Star practices and everything seemed to be clicking. The team was competing, moving the ball, being aggressive on defense, doing all the little things right. To him, it looked like the break had done the team some good — guys were rested and ready to take on the remainder of the season with type of energy, focus and urgency Utah needed.
Then, Friday happened.
The Jazz didn't do any of those things in an ugly 113-104 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at Vivint Arena.
“I hate to say this, sometimes we just didn't bring it,” Mitchell said. “I think that's the case where you just can't have that. I think that as a collective group, we weren't all on the same page.”
The Jazz allowed the Spurs to score 65 points in the first half and were down 20-plus in the second quarter — and things didn't really get any better from there. It was a poor performance all around.
And one that has happened before. Utah has had moments of greatness this year: the 19-2 stretch; wins over the Clippers, Bucks and Mavs; game-winning plays on both ends of the court. But there have been some head-scratching performances in between.
Add Friday to the list.
Mitchell, 12 points on 5 of 14 shooting, and Rudy Gobert, 18 points and 14 rebounds, weren’t blameless — far from it — but they are also the undisputed leaders of the team. And after the disappointing performance, they had a message for their team: we need to stop playing like we've won something.
“It starts on defense for us, being more physical,” Gobert said. “Come out with an edge that we used to have. ... If we want to be a champion, if we want to be one of the best teams in the league, it’s gotta be who we are.
“We got to come out every night with that chip on your shoulder. No matter who we play, we have to go out with something to prove. That’s what teams are doing to us. They are having fun. Nobody really respects us. They come out, they push us around, they deny us. They take us out of what we want to do.”
I hate to say this, sometimes we just didn't bring it.
The Jazz have the seventh-best defense in the NBA, according to Cleaning The Glass. But Gobert doesn’t care about that. There have been too many times now where the defense has slipped and when he has been asked about a lack of effort or a slow start. The ranking might be good — but to him, that hasn't meant much in a lot of games. And it definitely didn't mean anything on Friday.
“We gotta have the (right) mindset every game and not just wait until we get punched in the face to get our mindset,” Gobert said. “It's got to be who we are and even if we feel like we are looking good in the rankings and all that, we want more than that.
"We know that we have a target on the back, so we have to use that as motivation to come out every single night with an edge. We got a lot of guys that can contribute and a lot of guys that can help us win. If you have that mindset as a team, I think we're gonna be in a position to win every night.”
The talent level on the team is why these types of performances have been so disappointing. The Jazz aren’t a spunky underdog anymore. Mitchell and Gobert are All-Stars, Bojan Bogdanovic is a threat to score 30 any night, and Quin Snyder is widely considered among the league’s best coaches. And yet, they’ve had these types of nights all season long. The Spurs were simply the aggressors; they wanted it more.
“There was just no physicality,” Mitchell said. “They just played like they didn't have an All-Star break; like they were ready to go and we didn't come ready to play from the jump — that's what happens. We can't sit here and say we'll get in the next game. We know we can't afford to have these games — it’s just tough; it eats away at you. But fortunately for us, we have another one tomorrow, so we got to be ready for that.”
Will the Jazz be ready then? At this point, that’s anyone’s guess.