Give the Utah Jazz players credit. They put a brave face on Friday night’s 84-74 loss to the Miami Heat. On a night when the offense hit new and historic lows, the players seemed assured that the wide open-shots will eventually fall.
“We just have to keep shooting them,” is how small forward Joe Ingles put it.
There’s no denying, however, that the Jazz are in an all-out tailspin. Friday night represented their fourth straight defeat overall and their third consecutive loss at Vivint Smart Home Arena, this time in front of a sellout crowd.
What’s worse is they are figuring out new ways to lose. Against Toronto and Houston, the Jazz couldn’t stop a star player. Against Philadelphia, they faltered defensively. Against the Heat, they were great defensively, posting an excellent 87.9 defensive rating for the game. But they couldn’t make a shot.
The third quarter proved to be the main culprit, which set up the final few minutes, when the Heat closed the game on a 13-0 run. The Jazz made a grand total of one field goal on 18 shot attempts in the third. With each possession, with each missed shot and turnover, the crowd at Vivint grew more restless. After the Heat trailed 49-37 at halftime, Miami eventually took a lead, making the Jazz offense tighter with each shot that clanged off the rim.
“There isn’t a magic bullet right now,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “Whether it’s confidence, or continuity, or connectivity, or whatever it is, we just have to grind through it. We have to address things the best we can. Guys have to keep shooting the ball.”
Overall, the second half was about as bad as an NBA can get offensively. The Jazz went 4 of 33 from the field after halftime. They scored just 25 points in the second half, as Rodney Hood and Donovan Mitchell went cold.
And yet, because of their defensive effort, the Jazz were in position to win the game. When Rudy Gobert dunked, drew a foul on Justise Winslow and made the free-throw, Utah held a 74-71 lead with 3:07 remaining. On the next possession, when Gobert emphatically blocked Hassan Whiteside’s shot and stared down his rival big man, victory seemed within Utah’s grasp.
But then, Dion Waiters happened.
Miami’s shooting guard, and one of the most confident players in the NBA, hit a 3-pointer falling out of bounds in front of the Jazz bench. That tied the game at 74-74. On Miami’s next possession, Waiters hit a fadeaway jumper from 20 feet. Then, Waiters fed Josh Richardson for a 3-pointer. Then, Waiters hit another three and topped his personal run off with two free-throws.
In all, Waiters scored 10 of Miami’s final 13 points and assisted on the other. In a game where scoring was at a premium, his late personal run proved to be the difference.
He was 4-of-17 from the field before his outburst.
“Like I said last year, I’ll say it again. I’d rather of 0-for-30 than go 0-for-9,” Waiters said. “Because if you stop shooting that means you’ve lost your confidence.”
Hood led the Jazz with 19 points in a sixth man role, but shot 5 of 19 from the field. Mitchell, Alec Burks and Gobert, who missed a portion of the game with a bone contusion in his knee, all scored 12 points.
The Jazz went 5 of 21 from 3-point range, turned the ball over 17 times and were out rebounded by 48-40. They fall to 5-7 on the season.
“They made adjustments, as all good teams do,” Mitchell said. “They have a great coaching staff and they were good at making adjustments. We had a great half and we went out there and just weren’t hitting the shots. The big thing, we played great defense all the way up until the end. That’s what kept us in it.”