Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — There's been a common occurrence before each Utah Jazz game over the last few weeks.
The opposing coach is asked what he thinks has contributed to Utah's surprising start, and he runs down a list that includes the Jazz's depth, their energy, how they play together on both sides of the ball, and how quickly they push the ball.
It's not a grand secret to what has led to Utah's success. On Tuesday against New York, though, the Jazz were out-Jazzed.
"Credit to New York, they played really hard; their bench really hurt us tonight," Jazz coach Will Hardy said. "They came in with great energy. They beat us on the glass, they beat us in transition, they beat us doing things that we pride ourselves on doing."
Last time Jalen Brunson was on the Vivint Arena floor, he was helping the Dallas Mavericks to a Game 6 series-clinching victory over Utah. He has a new uniform, but he was the same pest that he was back in April. Brunson had 25 points and eight assists to lead the Knicks to a 118-111 win over Utah at Vivint Arena.
He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter and led a 24-6 run by New York in a performance that was reminiscent of his playoff games in April when he helped the Mavericks oust the Jazz.
New York had six players in double figures, and had 39 bench points — pretty much Jazz-like numbers.
The loss was Utah's third straight defeat, and it dropped their once Western Conference best record to 10-6.
So is the book out on Utah? Has the shine fell off this surprising team? Is the tank back on?
Not so fast, said Kelly Oylynk, who had 27 points and 11 rebounds against New York.
"I mean, we were right there the last three games," Olynyk said. "Some shots didn't go our way, the other team made plays. Obviously, there's some stuff we can shore up, stuff we can do better throughout the game."
Utah had a 2-point lead going into the fourth quarter against New York before letting the game slip away. That followed equally close games in Washington and Philadelphia. Earlier this season, the Jazz were the top clutch team in the league — things are starting to even out.
Almost immediately after Tuesday's game, Jordan Clarkson, who scored 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting, tweeted, "vibe still alive!!!"
The message was clear: There's no panic in the Jazz locker room following another loss.
Mike Conley, who had 10 points and seven assists on Tuesday, has been around a lot of three-game skids. He's experienced them on good teams and he's gone through them on bad teams. And, yes, there is a different feel in the locker room, he said.
As the Jazz came into the locker room following the loss, the talking started. The team collectively was trying to figure out what had gone wrong. The Jazz discussed the obvious problem: the turnover issues (they had 20 on Tuesday), and the equally worrying trend of giving up easy buckets in transition.
Still in their jerseys, the Jazz started formulating a plan to fix things.
"That's what the good teams do, they try to figure it out right then on the spot — not wait for coach, not wait for the next day or the next game," Conley said.
"We understand there are some things that we need to clean up, but you are going to hit spells like this. We are going to play good teams, we are going to lose tough games."
The Jazz haven't been helped by the schedule makers, either.
They've played 10 of their first 15 games on the road and just played nine-straight games in different cities. They've played a schedule of contenders and playoff teams and have gone from coast to coast. It's been a grueling schedule, and it may have finally caught up to the Jazz.
Utah was killed in transition and the Knicks had 19 second-chance points. Utah only shot 32% from 3-point range and 43% from the field — signs the team is tired (they'll have a couple days off in Salt Lake City before Friday's home game).
"People say Utah's beautiful, I have no clue," Olynyk quipped. "I haven't seen it."
The Jazz don't think the current skid is a sign of things to come. Are they right? Time will tell.
"It's not like we're going through this three-game losing streak, like, 'Damn, we had no chance at any game and we need to go back to the drawing board and rip up everything else,' you know?" Olynyk said. "We're still right there, still competing.
"When we're playing well and playing together and doing what we did the first, whatever it was, games, we're a good basketball team."