SALT LAKE CITY — It had been more than a year since the Utah Jazz put together a three-game winning streak and after defeating two of the NBA’s better teams in their last two outings — quite decisively as a matter of fact — Wednesday night’s game looked like a sure thing.
After all, the Jazz were playing the woeful Los Angeles Lakers, who had lost 16 of their last 18 games and came to town with the fourth-worst record in the NBA and the most nondescript lineup of NBA players you’ve ever heard of.
So of course, you know what happened. The lowly Lakers scratched and clawed and outplayed a mistake-prone Jazz team, plagued by turnovers and missed free throws, and took a 100-97 victory Wednesday night before a sellout crowd at EnergySolutions Arena.
Utah was beaten by the likes of Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Jordan Clarkson, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Hill, four of whom played the entire fourth quarter (raise your hand if you’ve heard of two of those guys) when the Lakers outscored the Jazz 31-19. But the Jazz came up empty thanks to a boatload of turnovers (20) and a bunch of missed free throws (12)
The Jazz wasted excellent games from Elijah Millsap, who came off the bench to score 17 points and grab seven rebounds, and from Rudy Gobert, who had another fine performance with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Derrick Favors played well with 18 points and nine rebounds, but he missed four free throws and made one he shouldn’t have with 2.2 seconds left when he was trying to miss.
Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with 20 points, but he also led the team with six turnovers and missed three shots in the final 90 seconds that could have made a difference in the outcome.
This was one of those games where you had a feeling the Jazz were going to lose even when they led by double-digits. The Jazz kept clanking free throws and they were beaten to loose balls and missed shots bounced into the hands of Laker players for easy layups.
Afterwards, Jazz coach Quin Snyder used phrases like “lack of mental toughness’’ and “being weak-minded” and “not precise’’ in describing his team.
The Jazz had looked as good as they have all season in defeating Portland by 16 points last week and defending NBA champion San Antonio by nine two nights earlier. But they didn’t seem to play with the same intensity against a team that came into the game with a 14-41 record.
“I won’t say it’s predictable, but it’s not entirely surprising,’’ Snyder said. “There is an edge you have to maintain throughout the season, particularly a team that’s had two very good wins,’’ he said. “Let’s be honest, we played well. Teams that are on a higher level — a level that we want to get to — continue to replicate that and we weren’t able to get there tonight.’’
Clarkson led the Lakers with 22 points, while Hill had 16 and Ellington 15.
“I thought we kept our composure,’’ said Lakers coach Byron Scott. “We’ve got a bunch of resilient guys. They just kept playing and kept giving us an opportunity.’’
Early on it looked like the Jazz were going to cruise as they took a quick 10-point lead in the first quarter. A tough sequence late in the second quarter was a harbinger of things to come.
The Jazz turned the ball over on consecutive possessions, then Favors shot an airball from two feet away. In between, Gobert lost his shoe and tried to play, to the amusement of the crowd, before being taken out for Trevor Booker. By halftime the lead was down to six at 51-45.
The Lakers caught up in the third quarter and battled the Jazz basket for basket with the game tied at 59, 61, 63, 65 and 67, before Millsap went crazy with 10 straight Jazz points in a two-minute stretch late in the quarter to stake Utah to a 78-69 lead.
The Jazz pushed the lead to 13 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, but they started missing shots, while the Lakers, led by Ellington and Davis, closed the gap to 85-80 at the 8:02 mark. The Lakers took their first lead of the game with 3:41 left when Clarkson scored on a layup with 3:41 left and the Jazz played catch-up from there.
Down four with under five seconds to play, the Jazz nearly had a miracle comeback to tie the game. Favors scored with 2.2 seconds left and was fouled. He tried to miss the free throw, but the high-archer bounced around and in, making it 98-97. Robert Sacre was fouled at the other end with 1.2 seconds left and he made both free throws, but the Jazz had no timeouts left and Hayward’s desperation 3-pointer from 30 feet came just after the buzzer.
“We all made mistakes out there,’’ said Trey Burke, who had seven points and four assists. “I’m sure everybody’s disappointed. We’ve just got to continue to stay with it.’’
The Jazz will head out to Denver for a game Friday night before returning home to play Milwaukee Saturday night. Then next week, the Jazz head out on a four-game road trip.