TORONTO — The Jazz lost Rodney Hood for most of the game because of a head injury. Rudy Gobert got into early foul trouble. Shelvin Mack had his worst game in a Utah uniform. And Toronto’s All-Star backcourt went off.
Despite all of that, the Jazz trailed by just four points with three minutes remaining in Wednesday’s game against a red-hot Raptors team that had won 10 straight at the Air Canada Centre and four of its last five games.
That’s the encouraging part.
Sorry, but there is a discouraging part, too.
Things fell apart for Utah in the final three minutes, and the Jazz stumbled down the stretch en route to a 104-94 loss to Toronto.
“I thought we played through some adversity. … So it’s not like our team (quit). They never do. Our guys competed until the last possession,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Give Toronto credit too. There’s a reason they’re as good of a team as they are and have the record they have. We weren’t able to match them for the whole game tonight.”
As a result, the Jazz lost their fourth straight game and fell for the seventh time in nine games. Utah, now 28-32, lost a game in the standings to victorious Houston. The Jazz are now 1-½ games behind the Rockets (30-31) in the chase for eighth place in the West.
“We’ve got to start playing the defense that we’re capable of,” said Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, who scored a team-high 26 points. “Letting two guys get 30, it’s going to be tough, tough to win those games. We’re going to have to play defense really well. We can’t turn the ball over. We’ve had trouble with that.”
To the Jazz’s detriment, guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan proved yet again they were worthy of representing the Eastern Conference in the recent All-Star Game held here in Canada.
Lowry torched Mack and the Jazz point guards for 32 points, five assists and four rebounds while DeRozan exploded for 31 points with five rebounds.
Together, Lowry and DeRozan made 24 of 35 shots. They boosted the Raptors to their 40th win of the season.
DeRozan admitted the Raptors’ dynamic duo is “extremely dangerous” when they’re on top of their game. Their offense helps open things up for teammates, too.
“We can pick and choose where we want to attack a team from,” he said, “and it’s tough to defend a team like that when we get going.”
As Hayward mentioned, the Jazz noticed.
Utah had a double-digit lead in the second quarter before the Raptors closed out the first half on an 18-5 run. Lowry’s 3-point bomb with 3.9 seconds remaining gave Toronto a 52-49 lead at halftime.
The Jazz appeared to be on the verge of getting blown out after Toronto took an 88-76 lead, but Trey Burke responded with 11 fourth-quarter points and Hayward continued his strong offensive effort to help the Jazz pull within four on a couple of occasions in the final period.
Utah’s final shot fizzled after Jonas Valanciunas put the Raptors up by six with a jumper with 2:32 remaining followed missed 3-point attempts by Hayward and Burke and two botched free throws by Rudy Gobert.
That left the Jazz in a close-but-not-close-enough situation. It was similar in a way to Monday in Boston in the sense that Utah led big before imploding.
The Jazz admitted the loss of Hood hurt. He got smacked in the noggin while running into Toronto big Bismack Biyombo in the second quarter and did not return because of a minor head injury. The good news was that he didn’t suffer a concussion.
“It’s huge. He’s another guy that can make plays for himself, make plays for our team,” Hayward said. “A defense has to respect him. It was huge — a bad, bad loss for us.”
Hayward was talking about Hood, but the same could be said of the team in general.
JAZZ NOTES: Former University of Utah point guard Delon Wright did not play for the Raptors. The rookie filled in for a resting Lowry in a loss to Detroit on Sunday and scored 13 points with six assists. ... Ex-Jazz small forward DeMarre Carroll also sat out with a knee injury. ... The Jazz have Thursday off before finishing their four-game road trip with a back-to-back on Friday (Memphis) and Saturday (New Orleans). ... Utah has now lost five in a row on the road and dropped to 9-20 away from Vivint Arena. ... Backup point guards Trey Burke (11 points) and Raul Neto (10 points) each scored in double figures while starter Shelvin Mack struggled to an 0-for-6 shooting night for just two points.