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The Utah Jazz's Season of 'If Only': The Downbeat #1858

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Let's wallow in what might have been. It's your Tuesday Downbeat.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Watching last night's Jazz road loss to the Boston Celtics brought one phrase to my mind over and over: "If only."

If only Dante Exum hadn't blown out his knee last summer.

If only Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors hadn't missed chunks of time due to injury.

If only the Jazz could close out games.

If only the West wasn't so crowded.

Of course, pretty much every team in the NBA can play the "if only" game. I realize that. Just about every time a team wins the NBA title, it's because their "if onlies" never happened, or they had fewer of them than everyone else. But it's still brutal to think about what this season might have been for the Jazz.

(Oh...um, Frozen spoilers, I guess.)

Per SLC Dunk frenemy alum Andy Larsen:

If it seems like the Jazz have had dozens of these close games this season, where it comes down to the final possession in the final minute, that's because the Jazz have had dozens of these games.

Tonight's game was the 25th contest of the season in which the team had a two point or less deficit with a minute or less to go. They're now 9-16 in such games. Only Indiana has had more games or more losses.

That alone pretty much justifies 2015-16 as the Season of If Only. The Jazz may yet stumble bass-ackwards into that 8th playoff spot (thanks for the loss, Houston!), but they could have and should have sewn it up long ago. The Celtics may be a playoff team, which might make a road loss understandable, but Utah had a firm double-digit lead in the second quarter. They blew last night like a Sin Cara senton.

A few reasons for this particular loss:

-- Anemic offense for long stretches. The Jazz blew that second-quarter lead because they couldn't generate any kind of offensive creativity, with players content to stand around and watch Gordon Hayward try to flail his way to the rim. The box score shows decent balanced scoring but horrible shooting, and several Jazz baskets came when Boston double- and triple-teamed when they didn't need to. When Hayward and Rodney Hood combine to shoot 10-37, as they did tonight, the Jazz are pretty much out of offensive ideas. That has to change...except I'm not sure it can with this roster. Even with Shelvin Mack and Trey Lyles (18 points each) relatively flourishing.

-- Awful transition defense. The Celtics scored 25 fast-break points, compared to just 4 for the Jazz. And most of those weren't points off turnovers, which might have been understandable if a giveaway put the defense in a bad position. No, most of those were just the Celtics out-hustling the Jazz. One key play late in the game saw Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert crash the boards but fail to come up with the ball. As the Celtics sprinted down the court, Gobert began frantically pointing and screaming at an opening in the lane where Boston's Jae Crowder was about to flash through. Favors failed to close the gap, Isaiah Thomas made the precise-but-open pass, and Hayward failed to catch up as Crowder scored and Rudy raged.

-- Poor shot selection down the stretch. After Crowder hit a three-pointer to give the Celtics a 96-95 lead with 30 seconds left, the Jazz called timeout. And the carefully crafted play that resulted was...a Gordon Hayward iso set against Avery Bradley, a smaller player but known for his defensive skill. Hayward hung in the air for a hesitation shot after a flurry of unconvincing fakes, Bradley stuffed it, and that pretty much sealed the game. (Yes, there was a bit of am uncalled kerfuffle between Gobert and Amir Johnson on a free-throw rebound after that, but we already know the Jazz get the short end of those calls. They need to compensate.)

I don't know if this was the Jazz's designed play out of the timeout, or if Hayward audibled when he saw the seemingly mismatched Bradley on him. (Celtics coach Brad Stevens (Hayward's former coach at Butler University) said after the game that the Bradley assignment was deliberate.) But it wasn't the right decision, in a game full of offensive mistakes.

Some of this stuff is correctable. Some of it may not be with the personnel the Jazz have right now. But there are reasons the Jazz lose so many close games, and patterns are starting to emerge.

Let's switch gears for a moment. FanPosts! We have some!

Here's oregonjazzfan with a slightly duplicitous idea to circumnavigate the salary floor:

My next idea may be stretching the bounds of ethics and would probably be shot down somehow by the NBA. The Jazz could sign a player mentor out of retirement to basically act as a coach. They could pay more than the typical assistant coach would get because the money is spent anyway. I think Stockton still looks like he is in pretty good shape. Like I said, that probably would be shot down by the NBA. But maybe Ray Allen would help our players with shooting and he hasn't been retired that long. This would use a roster spot, but if the right guy was willing it would be worth the use of a roster spot.

No idea if that's legal or not, but the more Stockton the better. (He's coaching his daughter's college team in Montana right now, though.)

And anne r. keye wants to know what your favorite basketball movie is. Hoosiers is not an option. (Although the poll therein also lacks the objectively greatest basketball movie ever: White Men Can't Jump.)

(I mean, okay, it's Hoop Dreams, but still. Woody Harrelson can play.)

Back to last night's game:

I have to say, I didn't expect to see Trey's minutes cut so drastically, even after Shelvin Mack started his Jazz career so promisingly. While he's said all the right things in person, to his credit, my personal belief is that he wanted to be traded at the deadline, and the Jazz did their best to accommodate that but were unable to get fair value for him. Quin Snyder has said minutes will be doled out according to matchups, so maybe he feared throwing Burke out there to get slaughtered by Boston's Isaiah Thomas. But it's not hard to believe that Burke just isn't in the Jazz's plans any more.

Unfortunately for Trey, he's still under contract until next summer. And unfortunately for the Jazz, his value will continue to plummet, especially if he isn't playing. I'm not sure I see a resolution to the situation here. Burke still has a decent role as a bench scorer in the right situation, but it seems clear that Snyder is more and more reluctant to take the corresponding defensive downside.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about where the Jazz go from here with Burke. The DNP-CD is a very ill omen, in my opinion, but maybe it's just an aberration? Let us know.

For you Redditors out there:

r/UtahJazz is a pretty small group, but it'd be nice to see more folks there. Jazz fans are fairly well represented on r/NBA, so if you're a Redditor, go check it out. If only to ask Andy questions about his dating life.

p.s. don't actually do that.

p.p.s. if you do, don't tell him I said to.