‘It was just a cool way to win a game’: Jazz bolstered by Game 1 finish, look ahead to Game 2 Monday in Dallas
Will Mavericks star Luka Doncic play in Game 2 after missing Game 1 with a calf injury? Jazz aren’t worrying about it.
It was far from pretty, and it might not have happened if a play or two late had gone the other way.
But the Utah Jazz’s 99-93 win over the Luka Doncic-less Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series “was massive” because it showed the Jazz can close out a game after having a decent lead in the fourth quarter, guard Mike Conley said Sunday in Dallas after an in-between-games practice.
As has been well-documented, Utah was abysmal at finishing off opponents the last few months of the season, having blown double-digit leads in fourth quarters no fewer than six times. The latest meltdown came on April 8 when the Jazz lost 111-105 to the Phoenix Suns, blowing a 17-point lead.
“We really have a great group of guys as well. They are not looking for the individual stats, (evidenced by) Rudy Gobert having just one shot yesterday and being the best player on the floor. It is amazing. I don’t know any other NBA player who can do that.” — Utah Jazz wing Bojan Bogdanovic
Saturday’s game appeared to be heading in that same direction when an 86-75 lead with six minutes remaining was chopped to 92-91 with two minutes left. But the Jazz got a huge defensive stop after Donovan Mitchell missed a shot in the lane and then outscored the Mavs 7-2 in the final minute.
The finish was important “especially (with) the way that the last month of the season was in regards to the fourth quarters and the stigma that we can’t finish games,” said Conley, who made a pair of clutch shots — a floater with 3:20 left out of a timeout and a pull-up jumper from 18 feet out with 2:24 left.
“For us to do it when it matters most, in a hostile environment, against a team that is playing good basketball, and (with) a lot of adversity through that fourth quarter, that historically could have taken us out of our rhythm and gave us a chance to lose the game (was big),” Conley continued. “I thought that each guy kinda trusted each other, each guy made plays when it mattered. Rudy (Gobert) was huge for us on the defensive end last night. Donovan and Bojan (Bogdanovic) made big plays, too. Royce (O’Neale) obviously with his big shot in the fourth. It was just a cool way to win a game that we have historically in the last month haven’t been able to do.”
Bottom line is the Jazz (50-33) gained a little more confidence in their ability to finish, a little more trust in each other down the stretch, as they head into Game 2 on Monday (6:30 p.m., NBATV) at America Airlines Center in Dallas. The Mavericks, meanwhile, took solace in the fact that they were on the cusp of pulling off a win as a five-point underdog without the services of the all-star Doncic, out with a strained left calf muscle.
“Regardless of the rebounding (disparity), I think we sill gave ourselves a pretty good chance to win the game,” said wing Dorian Finney-Smith. “If we make a couple more 3s and free throws, it will be a different story (on Monday). ... They were the better team (on Saturday).”
Like Conley, Bogdanovic also spoke to reporters Sunday and said the Jazz aren’t concerning themselves much about Doncic’s status, while acknowledging that the Slovenian’s presence definitely changes the way both teams play.
The Mavericks continue to say Doncic is “day-to-day” and “doubtful” for Monday, while Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported Sunday that Dallas’ best player is unlikely to play.
What was different down the stretch this time for the Jazz?
Coach Quin Snyder said after the game that the Jazz were more aggressive, trusted each other more, and didn’t linger on bad plays. They played forward, he said.
“Not to diminish the importance of plays and execution, but I think our group continued to attack,” Snyder said. He pointed out that “what may seem like a really small thing” was backup center Hassan Whiteside’s rebound basket with 6:16 remaining. It gave the Jazz a 10-point lead and was as vital as O’Neale’s 3-pointer with 57 seconds left.
“Those are the kinds of things that actually have the exact opposite effect of, say, turning it over, or giving up a 3,” Snyder said.
Conley, who was 6 of 12 for 13 points in 35 minutes, said the Jazz have worked the past two weeks on “six or seven sets” with the five or six guys who finished the game Saturday and focused on putting players in positions in which they are comfortable.
“I think the difference (between) last night and other games was us just understanding what we were doing, us being comfortable with what we were doing, and not just having the ball in one guy’s hands, but everybody is touching it, everybody making plays,” Conley said.
The veteran said the late-game emphasis on moving the ball and getting everyone involved in the offense kept the Jazz from having to take difficult shots that made the game tougher on them.
“We just made the game easier,” Conley said. “Bojan was the guy who was going last night, so we played through him and he made the game easy for everybody.”
Bogdanovic scored 26 points on 11 of 20 shooting, including six in the fourth quarter after being held scoreless in the third — when Mitchell took over, after the Jazz star scored only two points in the first half. Bogdanovic said putting “egos to the side” and trusting each other was a big part of the Jazz’s success in the final moments Saturday.
“We are here because we are a good team and we got quality (players),” he said. “We really have a great group of guys as well. They are not looking for the individual stats, (evidenced by) Rudy Gobert having just one shot yesterday and being the best player on the floor. It is amazing. I don’t know any other NBA player who can do that.”
Even though Bogdanovich and Mitchell combined for 58 points, Gobert was arguably the player of the game for the Jazz. He attempted just one shot, but was 5 of 6 from the free-throw line and grabbed 17 rebounds — 15 on the defensive end.
“I do hope I get more (shots) next game, but, at the same time, for the most part of the game, I thought we moved the ball,” Gobert said. “We talk about sacrifice — that’s what it is about. One night it is going to be me. One night it is going to be someone else. But at the end of the day, we kept moving the ball, and that’s what matters.”
Conley said years of playoff experience have taught him that no two playoff games are alike, even if Doncic doesn’t return, and the Mavericks will make plenty of adjustments in Game 2. So will the Jazz, particularly with their transition defense. Dallas got back into the game by getting to the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, and making transition 3-pointers.
“When they got out into transition, we didn’t locate our man, and they got some easy buckets, easy 3s, easy layups. That really kind of ignites them,” Conley said. “They play a lot different without Luka. A lot of guys kinda touch the ball and move it up court and play from a lot of different angles. I think if we can do better in transition, that would be really big.”