The Jazz were outscored 30-21 by the Lakers in Friday's 102-84 loss, marking the seventh straight game the they have lost the fourth quarter. The twist this time, however, was that the Jazz did not first build a big cushion. The Jazz cut the Lakers' lead to 81-78 in the final minutes of the third quarter, before losing ground by the end of that period and unraveling completely in the fourth.
"We have to get better in the fourth quarter," coach Tyrone Corbin said. [See interview below.]
While any number of reasons can contribute to the late-game issues, one that has become apparent is that with point guard Mo Williams out for several more weeks following right thumb surgery, the Jazz continue to lack a go-to, late-game player. Williams never shied away from taking big shots late in games or trying to take over in the fourth quarter.
"It's not just me," Williams said. "There's guys that come up big, Al [Jefferson] has done it, Gordon [Hayward] has done it, Paul [Millsap] has done it. It's just the simple fact of having the confidence."
Prior to Friday's game, coach Tyrone Corbin talked about the problems his team has faced late in games and possible remedies.
Salt Lake Tribune: How do you address late-game situations in practice and what will it take to get better in that regard?
Tyrone Corbin: Well we put situations, we up the number of points with a few minutes left on the clock or you down the number of points and you have a set amount of time on the clock and try to get the guys used to playing with the sense of urgency of controlling the clock or rushing the ball and trying to get the momentum back. Games is different than practice when you're trying to [simulate] as much as you can in situations like that. But we have to get better in the fourth quarter. We've done a good job in the last two games of winning the first three quarters and having a cushion to handle the rally from other teams, but we don't want to put ourselves in that situation too many times.
SLT: Are the Jazz lacking a cutthroat late-game scorer with Mo Williams out?
TC: With the way that Al and Paul is, but we have to get the ball to those guys. So we have to know or have a feel of where you're trying to go. So they put an extra guy on the left block to try to make Al get out a little further, so it changes because different nights different guys are going, so I have to figure out how do I go, away or straight to the guy where I want to get the ball. Maybe go away from Al with Gordon and come back to get it on the weak side or go to Paul to come back and get it to Al.
SLT: Is Gordon Hayward becoming that kind of late-game player?
TC: That's why we want him to grow. He's a guy who can grow into that spot for us."
The issue of having a guy to take the last shot is not entirely the same thing as being able to protect big leads or maintain in the fourth quarter what was done in the first three, so the rest of the interview with Williams may be a touch off point from the bigger issue of what ails the Jazz. Still, it's instructive to see how Williams views late-game situations. He was often criticized for his shot selection in close games, but always expressed a desire to take the clutch shot. It paid off, as an example, on Dec. 12 when the Jazz beat San Antonio 99-96 on a buzzer-beating 3 by Williams.
SLT: What's the key to fourth quarter success?
Mo Williams: Fourth quarter's going to be tight, fourth quarter you're not going to fool the other team. You've got one o r two plays you're going to run. Every team has one or two plays they're going to run down the stretch when they need a bucket and everybody on the court is going to know it. It's all about execution and making and taking big shots and shooting with confidence."
SLT: Do you sense the team misses you in the fourth quarter?
MW: It's not just me. There's guys that come up big, Al has done it, Gordon has done it, Paul has done it. It's just the simple fact of having the confidence. I think that's why it never bothers me. It bothers me when we do lose, but you get over it, because you're willing to take that shot and you're willing to take the criticism. And you have confidence doing it. A lot of times you'll be successful close games when the pressure is built.
— Bill Oram