Los Angeles • Hey, newsletter peeps!
My apologies for not getting you a newsletter the past few weeks — but with the playoffs going on, it’s been nonstop going to games, getting on Zoom calls, writing articles every day and participating in the occasional live chat for Trib subscribers.
It’s been hectic. So, thank you for your understanding.
I’m writing parts of this as I sit at my gate in the SLC Airport B terminal (yup, it’s a little bit of a trek), on my flight into Long Beach, and in my hotel in Los Angeles, where I’ve traveled to cover Friday night’s do-or-die Game 6 at Staples Center.
After us Jazz beat writers had wrapped up our Wednesday night/Thursday morning Game 5 postmortems (a few of us didn’t leave Vivint Arena until well after 1 a.m.), we paused for a few minutes to discuss what had just happened. The consensus?
None of us had entered the arena that day anticipating that it might be the Jazz’s final home game of the 2020-21 season. It’s still something of a shock, but here we are.
As the game began to unfold, of course it was incredible fun watching one 3-pointer after another go through the net. However, sitting next to my Trib coverage partner, Andy Larsen, we kept turning to each other in alarm with each missed defensive rotation, with every Clippers shooter left ridiculously open. And there were a lot of them.
The Clippers figured out their defensive issues as the game went along. The Jazz never really did. And that was the ballgame.
Sure, it would have helped if Utah’s players had turned it over less. Or made more of their free throws. Or gone slightly better than 3 for 24 beyond the arc in the second half. Or got the blender whirring at peak efficiency. Or had a healthy Donovan Mitchell. Or a healthy Mike Conley. All valid points.
But mostly, it was disappointing to see them put so little effort in on the defensive side. It seemed like this was the season that the Jazz had finally found that balance between freewheeling offense and stingy D, but Game 5 sure wasn’t an indication of that.
Then again, between the loss and Mike’s post-shootaround news that preceded it, Thursday was pretty much a bummer day for Jazz fans all the way around. The series isn’t over yet, but it was hard not to feel that way leaving the building that night.
Here’s some of the quotes from the day that stood out to me …
Notables from Wednesday
• Mike Conley: “I’ve played through a lot of things in my career, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. And I would love to be out there every one of these games. But, going forward, there’s a balance of doing what’s right for our team and thinking about our goals going forward — and if we can find a way to get a win here and there and give me a couple more days to hopefully show a little bit better going forward, the series is still much in play.”
I’ve seen a lot of social media posts related to Mike’s absence questioning his toughness, questioning his commitment, saying he’s damaged goods, asking why he can’t suit up and just give it a go like James Harden did for Brooklyn. Pretty silly stuff. Beyond the fact that them hurting the same body part doesn’t at all mean they have the same injury, it’s kinda ludicrous to doubt Conley’s toughness. This is, after all, the same guy who came back from a “blowout” facial fracture (fracture under his eye, along his brow, near his jaw, and also his nose), donned a facemask, and took it to the Blazers in 2015.
Here’s what stood out about Mike’s comment: It’s clearly eating at him that he hasn’t been able to play. He was pushing to come back, and suffered a setback as a result. From there, he and the Jazz have been walking a fine line, trying to balance his ability to help now vs. his availability down the line should Utah advance. It’s not as simple as “Just go out there and try to play.” If it was, he would have already.
• Donovan Mitchell: “It’s something I’m going to have to deal with. I mean, it f—-ng sucks. I ain’t got nothing else to say. It’s tough when … you see spots you [normally] can get to, but [now] you can’t. So you got to find a way to make it happen. It’s tough, but I got to find a way, otherwise I’m going to be home. And I said it last year, that we didn’t do all this — and I said during the year — we didn’t do all this to lose in the second round, so we got to figure it the f— out, otherwise, that’s it.”
• Quin Snyder: “He is carrying a huge load, not just trying to create offense for himself, but for the group. So [the medical staff] will continue to evaluate him and see where he is after tonight and continue to monitor that and make decisions going forward that obviously have Donovan’s best interests first and foremost in mind.”
Two-for-one situation here, regarding Donovan’s sprained ankle, which appears to have gotten progressively worse as this series has gone on. Kinda crazy to look back now at him being held out of Game 1 of the Memphis series, and the firestorm of drama that created, and to wonder now if the only thing done wrong was maybe that he wasn’t, in fact, held out longer. He’s clearly hobbled, clearly limited, and clearly frustrated that he cannot do a lot of the things he’s accustomed to doing.
Quin’s quote, meanwhile, had a lot of people — me included — reading between the lines and wondering if the Jazz might really hold Donovan Mitchell out of an elimination game. He’s officially listed as “questionable” on the injury report that came out Thursday evening. Sounds crazy in a vacuum to hold him out, but if it’s determined that he’s that hurt, it wouldn’t shock me to see him sit. Not that he’d be happy about it. Honestly, if he has any say in the matter, he’ll play. And if he’s not going to hurt himself more by being out there, he’ll play.
• Rudy Gobert: “I didn’t feel like we were playing with a sense of urgency at the beginning of the game. … I felt like early on we were trading baskets, and because we had the five-point, 10-point lead, it was OK, but as soon as they turned up the level defensively and as soon as we stopped making those 3s, they kept attacking us, getting to the line and getting to the rim, and it was hard for us to stay afloat.”
I mean … I’m not even including Rudy’s most incendiary quote here — the one about how they’d have been better off hitting fewer shots cuz then they would’ve realized they needed to play some defense — because it’s been discussed to death. This one is a follow-up of sorts. And it’s still not a great look for a team on the brink to be accused of lacking urgency at this point of the season. I’m still a little incredulous. And yet, you look at how they played, and it’s hard to argue against its truthfulness. Will we see a more motivated team in Game 6? If not, season’s over.
And one little music tip
Not gonna do one of my patented top-5 lists because, well, I just haven’t had time for that. So let’s keep this short and sweet with a simple recommendation. I’m loving Garbage’s new album, “No Gods No Masters.” Been a fan of theirs since the ’90s, though I haven’t been particularly ardent about anything since 1998′s “2.0.” But this one grabbed me right from the tone-setting opener, the pointed-and-saucy-yet-fun “The Men Who Rule the World.” Shirley Manson remains a compellingly acid-tongued front woman, backed by a guitar-and-beats-driven supporting cast headlined by Butch Vig. “Uncomfortably Me” and “Godhead” are also standout tracks.