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The Utah Jazz have been one of the great successes of the 2016-17 season. Tabbed as a very likely playoff team heading into the season, the Jazz have met the upper bounds of those expectations and entered Saturday’s game at the Los Angeles Clippers in fourth place in the West, or 1 1/2 games up on their opponents for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Despite their relative inexperience, the Jazz’s mix of elite defense and steady perimeter play should make them a handful in the postseason.
So it’s a little surprising to see their soon-to-be All-NBA center Rudy Gobert call out some of his teammates in the wake of Saturday’s 108-95 loss, which narrowed Utah’s lead over L.A. to just a half-game (one in the loss column). According to Gobert, the problem was that too many members of the Jazz shirked their non-scoring responsibilities. From Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com:
“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring,” Gobert told ESPN after Utah’s fourth loss in its past five games. “That’s what it is.
“Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”
Gobert was especially disappointed that the 44-29 Jazz came out flat — trailing by 14 points after the first quarter — in a game that could ultimately decide which of these two squads will enjoy home-court advantage if they meet in the playoffs. The 44-30 Clippers closed to within a half-game of the Jazz in the fight for the Western Conference’s fourth seed. […]
“I think everybody needs to think about making plays for the team, making winning plays, before thinking about how many points we’re going to score and stuff like that,” Gobert said. “Everybody has to be ready to sacrifice. In the playoffs, it’s not going to be pretty. There’s going to be some games where you don’t score. But are you going to take a charge for a teammate? Are you going to come and box out DeAndre [Jordan] for a teammate?
“It works with all of us. And we do it, we do it, but we do it by stretches. We need to do it right from the beginning of the game. I think when we do that, we’re very, very, very good.”
Gobert’s statement that certain players only think about scoring stands out, especially given the course of Saturday’s game. The Jazz trailed 28-14 after the first quarter but closed the third on a 20-6 run to make the final period something like a toss-up. Unfortunately for them, Clippers guard Jamal Crawford took over and scored 17 of his game-high 28 points to seal the result and a 3-1 season series win, which could prove important if the teams finish tied in the standings.
According to MacMahon, Gobert’s comments were mostly about Utah’s slow start, which in a big hole pretty much immediately during a tough road game. Head coach Quin Snyder echoed those concerns, albeit with more measured language:
“It’s not that we’re not playing hard. We don’t necessarily play hard together when we need to. I think that type of collective effort, when you get in big games against good teams and physical teams, that’s what you need.”
Those issues would obviously come up in a playoff series, and the overriding concern of both Gobert and Snyder appears to be that the Jazz don’t the right attitude or commitment to a team identity to thrive in that atmosphere. It’s a fair concern, especially for a young team. On the other hand, it could just be a way to remind everyone of what’s about to be at stake. Expertise isn’t necessarily a part of the equation — Gobert has never seen a minute of playoff action.
One player who has, point guard George Hill, isn’t so concerned with the impact of Saturday’s result. Here’s what he had to stay about Utah’s dwindling lead for the No. 4 seed:
Well, I’m glad that’s settled.
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