SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz’s double-overtime, down-to-the-wire loss to the Denver Nuggets on Saturday was the team’s best performance in the bubble.
After the game I wrote that the Jazz can use the loss as a blueprint moving forward. They played great basketball in the first half, showed early energy and effort that has been missing as of late, generated and then missed really good looks in the third quarter and then battled back in the final moments of the fourth to make things competitive once again. But it wasn’t perfect.
“When we start missing shots we’ve got to turn our defense up to a higher level, which I don’t feel like we did to the full extent until we got to the fourth quarter and made crucial stops that we needed.” — Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell
The Jazz are completely aware of their place in the league. No matter how much confidence they have in their abilities, they know that making a deep run in the playoffs is going to be an incredibly difficult task. That’s why it’s beneficial to note the positive aspects of their Saturday performance while also acknowledging the areas that need improvement.
The heroics of Donovan Mitchell in crunch time against Denver can not be ignored. He hit amazing clutch shots again and again to keep the Jazz in the mix, but to focus just on those moments don’t tell the whole story.
As the Jazz’s 18-point first half lead dwindled through the third and fourth quarter, Mitchell started to go into hero-ball mode a little too early, which led to the ball not moving as much and more contested looks. Meanwhile, the Jazz had lapses on the defensive end as the offense waned. Before hitting a wild, turn-around three with 7.8 seconds left in regulation, Mitchell was 1-of-6 from three-point range in the second half, while Mike Conley was 0-of-5 from deep in that span.
“When we start missing shots we’ve got to turn our defense up to a higher level, which I don’t feel like we did to the full extent until we got to the fourth quarter and made crucial stops that we needed,” Mitchell said.
There were gambles that didn’t pay off, defensive help that was slow to rotate, choices made to go over screens rather than under, avoidable turnovers, and falling into an isolation game when there was still plenty of time to play and utilize the offense.
“There were some situations that potentially we could have competed a little harder and recognized a little sooner,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the game. “I’m not critical of our effort. I think we’ll have a chance to look at those and have an opportunity to prepare even more.”
Rudy Gobert was quick to point to himself as a problem in the fourth quarter, and although the loss should definitely not be placed solely on his shoulders, he was right on the money with some of the things that he could have done better. He mentioned not dunking when he should have and missing layups. In the playoffs, when defenses are even more physical and demanding, you have to go up strong, especially if you’re the 7-foot guy on the floor.
Jordan Clarkson admitted that as recently as Friday, during a loss to the San Antonio Spurs Snyder pulled him aside and told him to slow down and trust the offense. It’s good advice, not only for Clarkson, but the Jazz as a whole.
The Utah Jazz are two games away from the NBA playoffs. Two games away from diving into preparation for a best-of-seven series against a single team. Lessons learned from the loss to the Nuggets and whatever the Jazz can glean from the Dallas Mavericks on Monday and Spurs again on Wednesday will be paramount to what the Jazz are able to do moving forward.