It’s always been a thing among NBA teams to try and “finish strong” into the All-Star break. It seems like every year you hear it various times in the final games prior to the break, this desire for teams and players to end the break on a positive note. The final stretch before this break for the Utah Jazz was definitely not what they had in mind.
After a brutally tough overtime loss to the Sixers last night, the Jazz are coming off back-to-back losses for just the second time this season. Although it was just their ninth loss of the season, it is their third loss in five games, and some hard ones to swallow at that. It wasn’t just the losses that hurt, it was how these losses came to be, especially last night’s in Philadelphia.
Several Jazz players uncharacteristically lost their cool and came a bit unraveled during and after the game, but not without good reason. Some really bad game-altering calls in the deciding minutes last night triggered some emotions that we haven’t seen in some time from this Jazz team. All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were the loudest and most prominent voices heard last night, with their words focused on the way they felt like the Jazz had been officiated not just in last night’s game, but in every game.
"We won this game in my personal opinion. ... It's getting f---ing ridiculous."— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 4, 2021
Donovan Mitchell after getting ejected vs. the 76ers: pic.twitter.com/sSTquZuu2n
Rudy Gobert's full comments after the game on the way the Jazz are officiated: pic.twitter.com/SRToSdu3TR— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) March 4, 2021
Listening and reading these comments from Rudy and Don last night, you probably wouldn’t think that these guys are playing on the #1 team in the NBA right now. I’m not saying this criticism from them isn’t unwarranted, because I think these guys are absolutely in the right here. What intrigues me about this situation, is there is absolutely no sign that the Jazz are complacent with where they are as a team. This Jazz team absolutely annihilated the NBA in the first half of this season. They went on a stretch where they won 20 out of 21 games, with most of the wins coming by double digits. During this stretch they had convincing wins over the 76ers, Bucks, Celtics, Clippers, Heat and Nuggets. Not to mention a blowout win over the Lakers (yes without AD) a few days later. They have owned the NBA’s best record for a few weeks now, including having the front-runners for DPOY, COY, and 6MOY on their squads, with two All-Stars. Every way you look at it, this Jazz team was the best in the NBA since the season started months ago.
It might be easy for a team that accomplished that much during the first half of the season to think, “ah it’s okay that we lost a couple before the break” or “ah, we got screwed by the refs, but that’s okay we’re still #1” - it doesn’t seem like there is any type of complacent thoughts among this whole squad. These Jazz players, especially Donovan Mitchell, took this loss very hard last night, maybe even personally (insert MJ meme here). To me, this is a great sign of what this Jazz team is made of, and where they want to end up, and that’s in the NBA Finals. Anything short of the Conference Finals this season would be a huge disappointment, and I think that all Jazz fans would agree with me on this. It was a rough night last night after that loss, especially on the forsaken Twitter app. But I think that loss, overall, was good for the Jazz. It showed them that they are still vulnerable. Instead of heading into the break with a win, they head into it with a really hard loss and almost a bigger target on their backs. But they fought hard, and fought as a team in their dissatisfaction with the way they were officiated, which was cool to see everyone sticking up for Donovan and the rest of the players. The Jazz are not complacent with having the NBA’s best record. They want a championship. We all do. Life gets a little bit more simple when you realize that no one on a national level is going to respect the Jazz until they make a deep playoff run. That’s just how it is. It’s how it is for all teams and players, across all sports. Is it fair that it’s like that? Probably not. But if they want respect, they have to overcome this and keep winning even more. This loss and what transpired after it have kept a flame inside them burning bright, and it might propel them to be even better in the second half the season.