Jazz lose their composure in crucial stretch of Game 5 loss to the Nuggets
The Jazz blew a 15-point, third-quarter lead Tuesday, and rather than sail into the second round of the playoffs with a gentleman’s sweep, they fell apart in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The Utah Jazz blew a 15-point, third-quarter lead on Tuesday, and rather than sail into the second round of the playoffs with a gentleman’s sweep of the Denver Nuggets, they fell apart in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, losing 117-107.
Now the Jazz head into a Thursday matchup leading just 3-2 in the best-of-seven series against a Nuggets team with momentum and the knowledge that they can get under the Jazz’s skin and make them pay when it counts.
“We just lost our composure when we were ahead. We got a little distracted during the game and weren’t as focused defensively.” — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder
There’s no scarcity of mishaps you could look to in the third quarter, when the Jazz started to see their lead dwindle, but with the game on the line, tied with just over three minutes to play, a string of crucial errors spelled defeat for the Jazz.
“We just lost our composure when we were ahead,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “We got a little distracted during the game and weren’t as focused defensively.”
Nuggets guard Jamal Murray had already found his rhythm, scoring 25 points between halftime and the 5:44 mark of the fourth. Then, with 3:30 left on the clock, Murray started to drive but slipped. Maintaining his dribble, he passed to Jerami Grant, who had his shot blocked by Rudy Gobert, but Murray recovered the loose ball. Realizing the ball had never hit the rim, Murray raced out of the paint and hit a turnaround, fadeaway shot that gave the Nuggets a 103-101 lead.
The Jazz called a timeout, but there was already fire in Murray’s eyes. The Jazz would have to counter with the same, if not more, intensity.
Instead, coming out of the timeout, Donovan Mitchell drove into the paint and kicked out to a wide-open Royce O’Neale, who hesitated long enough for confused groans from the handfuls of people inside HP Field House to reverberate through the arena. He hesitated for long enough that he got lost in what he was supposed to do and committed a traveling turnover.
“We passed up a few shots that we’ve been taking and been playing with confidence,” Snyder said. “As much as anything, we stopped being able to get out and run as well. We just have to execute better on both ends of the floor.”
On the other end, on another broken play, Murray ended up on the 3-point line without a defender in front of him and tossed up a 3 that rattled around the rim for an eternity before falling through and giving the Nuggets a five-point lead.
Looking dejected, the Jazz took the ball out of bounds as Murray ran down to the other end, smiling ear to ear.
“We let a couple of events rattle us a little bit,” Mike Conley said. “Not being able to move on to the next play really kind of bit us tonight. They were playing with nothing to lose and really outworked us.”
The Jazz still had a chance to gain some ground on their next two offensive possessions, but they came up empty while Murray hit jumper after jumper on the other end.
In a span of two minutes the Jazz went from having a chance to close out the series, to looking like a team that had nothing left in the tank.
“We’re the same team that played well enough to have that lead,” Conley said. “In these situations that’s the important time to not have that happen and to not get distracted and to continue to come together and our guys know that.”
They might know it, but they didn’t do it.
Again, you could look to the earlier moments of the game and analyze how the Jazz lost the lead in the first place, and that’s absolutely what the Jazz will be doing on Wednesday when they review film. But what does it say about the Jazz that in the crucial moments of a closeout game, they lost their composure, they got rattled, they let Murray and the Nuggets get the better of them?
“Sometimes you can look for sweeping conclusions on things and other times it’s a string of plays, and there was a number of them,” Snyder said. “We didn’t make plays when we needed to.”
On one hand, it could be said that the Jazz aren’t ready to handle the pressure that these high-intensity playoff games bring. On the other hand, according to Conley, these moments are going to happen, and better for it to happen now and to learn from it than it to happen later on.
“For us to be put in a situation where it’s 3-2 and we still have a chance to close out our next game, hopefully it’s an opportunity for us to learn,” he said. “We’re not perfect, we’re still learning as we go. This team has a lot of potential so for us to have a situation like that tonight, in a big moment in the playoffs, is a great learning experience, because if it didn’t happen tonight it might happen in another series or another year, another time. It’s good that we have to go through it.”
From the mouth of a seasoned veteran of the game who has been in many playoff battles, those come across as very wise words. But it’s important to remember where the Jazz are in this series. The Nuggets absolutely have the ability to beat the Jazz again and if they do that forces a Game 7, and in a Game 7 the most important things are composure and executing down the stretch.