'We lost our focus': Utah Jazz let an 18-point lead slip away at Madison Square Garden
“We lost our focus.”
That’s how Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder put it.
After building up an 18-point lead over the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, the Jazz left Madison Square Garden frustrated and disappointed, on the wrong end of a double-digit scoreline.
“We came out strong and we were playing the right way,” Snyder said after the 112-100 defeat. “We were defending and then we lost our focus. That’s squarely where it has to be. To me, it’s a question of focus.”
After getting blitzed early in Brooklyn, the Jazz looked to be off to another cold start in the Garden. The team connected on just three of their first 14 attempts on Wednesday night. Then things started falling. The Jazz hit 11 of their next 12 shots to build up a double-digit lead early in the second quarter.
The Jazz bench helped extend that lead in the period. After a steal and a coast-to-coast bucket midway through the second, sixth man Jordan Clarkson had 10 of 19 points and the Jazz had a 44-26 advantage.
But the Knicks did not back down.
After trailing by as much as 18, the Knicks came roaring back in the third to take a 78-75 lead into the final frame. The Jazz turned the ball over five times for nine points in the period. New York was led by 14 third-quarter points from Julius Randle and eight apiece from Elfrid Payton and RJ Barrett.
Randle finished the game with 30 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists.
“We just stopped defending and turned the ball over,” said All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, who finished with 18 points. “We got up and got complacent. They came out on a run, and it’s like we didn’t know what to do after that. That’s really what changed the game.”
In the fourth quarter, the Knicks put the finishing touches on their double-digit comeback. New York’s Austin Rivers came off the bench to score 14 points in the quarter, delivering one backbreaking bucket after another.
The Jazz are now 4-4 on the season. But even after back-to-back losses, Mitchell said it was not time to panic.
“We just have to go out and do it,” Mitchell said of finding consistency as a team. “We have a tendency as a team and a fanbase to kind of go crazy. But we’ve had stretches like this in my four years. IF we continue to sit here and feel depressed and upset, it’s not going to change. It’s not just going to change on its own. We have to do the work. But I’m not worried. It’s something we just have to do.
“… I don’t think it’s a moment where we can freak out. It hasn’t been the greatest eight games, but we can fix it and we will fix it. It’s just a matter of how.”
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) January 7, 2021
The insurrection in Washington, D.C., cast a shadow on the entire nation Wednesday. Jazz head coach called the violent mob’s assault on the U.S. Capitol building “disturbing and incredibly unfortunate” as he and his players hoped for a peaceful resolution to the matter.
“I think everybody on this call, in our locker room, and around the country is aware of what’s going on today,” Snyder said to reporters before the game. “It’s obviously really disturbing.”
Videos, photographs and news reports from Washington became the focus of game day for the team.
“It’s hard to have any type of typical preparation,” Snyder said. “At some point, your focus turns to the immediate. But obviously it’s on everyone’s mind. … We’re not here with the potential to really impact the current situation. But, certainly, our awareness and our emotions and all of our feelings do make it hard to concentrate.”
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said he was unaware of any talks about possibly suspending games as a result. Thibodeau said he intended to discuss the situation with his players after the game. “It’s shocking and disappointing,” he said. “As Americans, you want everyone to be safe. We can debate things and do all that, but I think once there’s violence it’s not good for anybody.”
Snyder spoke with his players briefly before game time.
“There’s so much to process right now,” the coach said. “Your hope is there can be some peaceful resolution. Obviously, it’s on all of our minds.”
We are witnessing an attack on our democracy. Peaceful transitions of power are fundamental to who we are as a country. Lies and division have consequences. We need to come together as a nation immediately to restore basic values and decency in order to move forward. Together.
— Ryan Smith (@RyanQualtrics) January 6, 2021
• There was a very familiar face on the Knicks bench Wednesday night. Longtime Jazz assistant coach Johnnie Bryant parted ways with the team in the summer to become an associate head coach in New York.
Bryant had been an assistant under former Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin and remained to work alongside Snyder for the better part of seven years.
“Johnnie was somebody that I immediately found a great confidence in,” Snyder said. “He and I became close friends. … I was able to see him grow and we grew together. I’m incredibly proud that he’s had this opportunity, and particularly with Thibs. It’s always mixed emotions. You’ll miss his contributions. He’s just a heck of a coach and I’ve had the pleasure of being with him for a long time. We went through the wars together. I’ll be appreciative and grateful to him for a long, long time.”
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) January 7, 2021
• Former Jazz guard Alec Burks missed Wednesday’s game with an ankle injury. The Knicks expect to reevaluate Burks in 7-10 days.
“There was still some tenderness from the sprain,” Thibodeau said. “It’s early in the season. We don’t want it to be something that lingers.”
Burks is averaging 20.7 points, 3.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds over the three games he’s played so far.
The team’s seven-game road trip continues with a stop in Milwaukee to face reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. Tipoff is set for Friday at 6 p.m. MT.