The Utah Jazz had a moment of self-reflection as they left Washington, D.C., last week. A loss to the Wizards had left the NBA’s first-place team upset, frustrated with their slipping defensive effort and recent performances. For Rudy Gobert and his team, it was time to take a hard look in the mirror.
“I think that Wizards game, really, we all kind of looked at ourselves and realized the picture we were looking at was ugly,” Gobert said. “I think it woke us up in a way. We saw that wasn’t the team we wanted to be. We want to be a team that takes every single defensive possession seriously, that doesn’t want to give anything easy away to the other team, and a team that plays together.”
The Jazz responded with a tough win over the Toronto Raptors.
Then, on Monday night, Gobert made sure his squad ended its five-game road trip with a decisive 120-95 victory over the Chicago Bulls. The All-Star center set a career-high with nine blocks to go along with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
21p | 10r | 9b | 2a | 9-11 fg pic.twitter.com/6t5nQSxSMp
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) March 23, 2021
“It’s all about getting better and building on the energy we have,” Gobert said. “When we come into the game we are thinking about defense and our defensive focus. Tonight, we did that and we have to keep doing that and getting better one game at a time.”
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder was certainly pleased with his team’s defensive effort Monday, holding the Bulls under 100 points on 40.6 percent shooting.
“It’s hard to replicate everything for every minute of every game, but that’s our focus,” Snyder said of his team’s performance. “I think when we do that it gives us an opportunity to get out and run. Getting stops keys everything for us. That’s where our mindset has to be. I thought tonight we came out with a real sense of purpose.”
The Jazz owned a 56-42 lead over the Bulls at halftime thanks in no small part to the hot hands of Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles. Mitchell had 21 points at the break, a season-high for points in a first half, and finished with a game-high 30 points. Ingles had, meanwhile, scored 12 of his 17 points (on 4-of-5 shooting from behind the 3-point line) in the first half.
“I think it just showed our mental fortitude,” Mitchell said of closing the long road trip out with a win. “We sustained that throughout the game and we responded well. Now we have to go home and do it against a really, really good team in Brooklyn.”
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) March 23, 2021
As a team, the Jazz shot 43.6 percent from deep.
Chicago All-Star Zach LaVine scored 27 points, but the Jazz never let the Bulls get going on Monday.
“It’s night and day when we do that,” Gobert said. “When we do that — and we did it against the Raptors, too — we’re a different team.”
The two-time Defensive Player of the Year Gobert was instrumental in that defensive performance Monday. And, late in the game, backup center Derrick Favors was the one who told him how close he was to that elusive triple-double.
“He was really happy to tell me that,” Gobert said. “That’s just the way we are as a team. Everyone is happy for one another and everyone is lifting each other up. It’s just fun to be part of a group that cares about one another. I think that’s really our strength as a team.”
Gobert logged 33:16 of game time Monday, about three minutes more than the rest of the Jazz starters, as he went looking for his 10th swat of the night.
“I’m not chasing blocks — unless I have nine,” Gobert said.
The All-Star center came agonizingly close to the franchise’s first regular season triple-double in 13 years, getting his hand on what would have been a 10th block late in the game, only to see the ball bounce around the rim and fall through the net.
“Man, I thought he had it on the last one,” Mitchell said. “He’s been phenomenal on the defensive end, going out there and challenging shots. They kept trying to attack him. I don’t know why. I wouldn’t. I’d just pull up and shoot it.”
“I just tried to block it. I did!” Gobert said of his last chance at swat No. 10. “But it was an unlucky roll.”
Gobert and the Jazz won’t think about that too much, though, as they return home after going 3-2 on this five-game eastern road trip.
“We’re not looking to play for stat lines,” Snyder said. “He had an opportunity to get it tonight and he didn’t get it, but we go the win. I know that’s what he’s most concerned about.”
When it comes to Alex Jensen’s future, Quin Snyder is certain about one thing: the Jazz’s lead assistant coach is going to be running his own team soon.
“He’ll be a successful head coach sometime here in the future,” Snyder said.
When and where? That remains to be seen.
Jensen’s name has been linked to the recent opening at the University of Utah, his alma mater. Asked about those rumors Monday, Snyder declined to comment on their validity. But the Jazz head coach praised Jensen for what he brings to the staff.
“It’s fairly obvious and known how I feel about Alex,” Snyder said. “He’s incredibly important to our program and to me personally. Whether it be game management, the thing people see the most, our preparation process and teaching, he just checks all those boxes. I know, and the people at the Jazz know, how talented Alex is.”
Welcome home, everybody. The Jazz will be back at Vivint Arena on Wednesday night, ready to take on James Harden and the Brooklyn Nets. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.