SALT LAKE CITY — It’s one of those things no one really wants to talk about. Jazz players prefer not to discuss it and coach Tyrone Corbin brushes away questions about it.
“It” is the team’s recent propensity for blowing big leads. Without using a certain word commonly expressed in sports, it seems the Jazz have a tendency recently to, let’s say, let their collars get pretty tight down the stretch.
It’s happened in each the last three games, starting when the Jazz blew a 15-point lead in the second half of an eight-point loss to Atlanta last Friday. A day later, they blew a 15-point lead in a three-point win over Detroit. And against Miami on Monday, they blew a 21-point lead and held on for dear life in what was ultimately a seven-point win.
Following the victory over Miami, Corbin was asked several times about his team losing the big lead and about how he felt while it was happening. He used the words “intense’’ and “nerve-wracking,’’ but said the loss of the 21-point lead had more to do with Miami than his team.
“They’re a great ballclub, the world champions, and there’s no quit in that team,’’ he said.
Corbin also talked about “the luxury of being able to weather the storm because you have the lead,’’ and how his team “showed a lot of poise and character to pull ourselves back together and get the win against a good ballclub.’’
One of the criticisms of the Jazz — or any team that loses a big lead — is that they get too careful and stop playing the way they have been earlier. Corbin admitted as much when he said, “When we get up, we want to control the clock, control the tempo of the game to make sure you get a shot instead of turning it over and letting them score, because that’s a four-point swing.’’
While the Jazz made some turnovers in the final quarter Monday, their biggest problem was missing shots, as the starters went 0 for 9 and only reserves Gordon Hayward (3 for 7) and Alec Burks (1 for 1) made baskets in the final 12 minutes.
Hayward and Burks are two of the youngest players on the team, but they each display a more aggressive attitude, which helps the Jazz in crunch time. Burks is always trying to attack the hoop and Hayward has a similar mentality.
“We were indecisive and hesitant, I think,’’ acknowledged Hayward afterward of how the Jazz lost their big advantage.
The problem of blowing leads hasn’t just been the last three games, however. Who can forget earlier games against the L.A. Clippers and Memphis? Twice in December games against the Clippers, the Jazz lost big second-half edges: a 14-point lead in a one-point loss Dec. 2 and a 17-point lead in a two-point loss Dec. 28. Against Memphis in the middle of the month, the Jazz led by 10 at halftime, only to get outscored by 23 in the second half.
On the other hand, the Jazz have overcome some big deficits and come back to win this year, most notably last week against Dallas when they outscored the Mavs 26-14 in the final quarter of a 100-94 win. In December, the Jazz came back from a six-point deficit with four minutes left to defeat San Antonio 99-96.
Part of the reason for Utah’s inconsistency could be its relative youth. Perhaps it all comes back to the hesitancy Hayward talked about.
“We’re trying to learn to push the lead from 20 to 30 and close teams out and for whatever reason we haven’t been able to do that,’’ Hayward said. “Getting up by 20 is definitely a good thing, but we just need to be able to close it out. We’ve to make sure to continue to put our foot on the gas and not be hesitant.’’