The long summer ahead will turn a little hotter for the Jazz each time the players and coaches ponder the playoff loss to the Houston Rockets.
Several what-ifs will haunt the Jazz going into the offseason, which started Wednesday after they lost to the Houston Rockets 100-93 at the Toyota Center. The Rockets won the best-of-seven series 4-1, advancing to the Western Conference semifinals.
“It comes down to making big plays in big moments,” said Houston coach Mike D’Antoni.
Staying in the moment, the Jazz failed in big moments that could have extended this series at least another game. The game was right there to be had, but a problem that plagued the Jazz in all but one game haunted them in the final minutes.
The ball didn’t go in the hoop when the Jazz needed it most. Ultimately, the amount of missed open shots killed the season.
“We didn’t have enough, but I thought we did compete defensively,” said coach Quin Snyder. “Every game is hard because they do such a good job of figuring out what you want to do.”
As great as the defense was all season and continued into this series, the Jazz did not have nearly enough offense. In today’s game, a prolific offense is necessary for success.
The final game of the series represented the entire series. The Jazz shot only 37 percent from the field and 23 percent on three-pointers.
The starting guard line – Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio – were a combined 11 of 37 from the field. Playing his worst when it mattered the most, Mitchell was held to a mere 12 points on 4 of 22 shooting and 0 for 9 three-point attempts.
“He had tough night statistically, as we did,” Snyder said. “In a lot of ways how Donovan goes at times, we go. I won’t call it a burden, but it’s a responsibility.”
Never known as a shooter, Rubio had a chance to give the Jazz a one-point lead with 69 seconds left in the game. His wide open shot from beyond the three-point line drew nothing but air.
There are many more examples that matched Rubio’s miss, even if none as are extreme. Truth is, the Jazz should not have to rely on the 22-year-old Mitchell to win games and any playoff series.
Another puzzling problem is the fact that the Jazz fared well against the Rockets in the final three games, even though they lost two of them. The two blowout losses in Houston to begin the series were summed up as an embarrassment.
It is reasonable to conclude the two teams would be returning to Salt Lake City for Game 6 if the Jazz gave a better effort early in the season.
“We started being more aggressive and competed more,” Snyder said of the difference.
Now comes the planning for next season. The priority for general manager Dennis Lindsey is to supply Mitchell with help in the form of more shooters.
Without better offensive threats, the same won’t change.
Last season, after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, the Jazz lost 4-1 to the Rockets. Finishing fifth in the Western Conference for the third consecutive season, the Jazz struggled to compete with the Rockets, who were the No. 1 seed last year but were fourth this time around after getting off to an 11-14 start.
The last three seasons have proven the Jazz are capable of competing well with most teams in the league. But the same can’t be said going up against the Rockets and Golden State Warriors in the postseason. Over the course of the last three years the Jazz are 2-12 against those two teams in the postseason.
“I think Quin Snyder does an unbelievably good job of getting everything out of them,” D’Antoni said.
Recording 50-win seasons, like the Jazz did this year, are nice but is not satisfying enough. The Jazz and their fans, like everybody else, want more.
Especially in the current climate, todays’ game is all about three-point shooting. Simply stated, the Jazz don’t have enough of the long-range bombers.
Over the course of 82 games, which includes competition against far lesser teams, the Jazz had enough shooting to withstand any prolonged losing streaks. The playoffs, as we’ve seen the last three years, is another story.