Maybe the Jazz’s legs started to go, considering it was the second night of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights. Or maybe shots simply didn’t fall at the worst possible time.

Either way, it proved costly.

A dry spell for Utah’s offense, a blistering, MVP-level performance from Paul George, and some bad breaks down the stretch Saturday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena resulted in a 107-106 Thunder win, bringing a gut-wrenching end to Utah’s nascent two-game winning streak.

“If we were fatigued, I think we did a good job of playing through it. And you would expect a little bit of that on a back-to-back. But I don’t think our team was thinking about that,” said coach Quin Snyder. “We were able to raise our level later in the game on the defensive end and make some plays there. We just had a couple of things that didn’t go our way on the offensive end. It was tough.

“We had a chance to win the game throughout the fourth quarter,” he added. “We just didn’t have a few plays that we needed to make.”


After leading for most of the game, thanks to a strong start from Derrick Favors, another beautiful display of court vision from Ricky Rubio, and an aggressive offensive effort from Donovan Mitchell, things started going south midway through the third period.

Inside shots started rattling in and out. Then, the open looks for 3 started coming up short.

George took advantage, hitting one impossible shot after another to total 22 points individually in the period, and helping OKC close the quarter on a 23-2 run that turned a 79-70 deficit into a 93-81 advantage going into the final 12 minutes.

Utah kept clawing back, though.

They narrowed the deficit, constantly poised to regain momentum. But then a wide-open Royce O’Neale 3-pointer missed … an open Mitchell 3-pointer missed … another good look by O’Neale at a trey missed.

And a home crowd ready to burst at a dagger shot instead groaned with each good look that clanked off the rim.

“I think we just started missing shots. Our defense slipped a little bit, but then we picked it right back up. PG had a scary night for himself,” said Mitchell, who totaled 20 points, nine rebounds, and six assists. “But for us, we just continued to chip away. We played a great fourth quarter to respond to that third quarter, and the ball … I think we missed four, five open shots in a row. That’s what it is — we played great defense, but we missed those looks.”

They still had a few chances in the game’s final seconds.

After getting all the way back to within 107-105, the Jazz gained possession of the ball with 7 seconds left. Mitchell shook off George on the perimeter, rose for a one-handed dunk attempt, and was hacked by Russell Westbrook — the Thunder star’s sixth foul — with 1.5 seconds left.

And the first free-throw attempt rolled out.

“I just missed the free throw. No other way around it. That can’t happen,” he said. “I thought it was in — [but it was] in and out.”

To compound the issue, Mitchell attempted to miss his second attempt, but accidentally made it. The Thunder quickly inbounded, evaded the Jazz defenders, then tossed the ball ahead to run out the clock.

It was a disappointing finish to an overall strong effort. Rudy Gobert had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Rubio continued his stellar run of play, totaling 12 points and dishing out 14 heady assists. Favors added 16 points, and Joe Ingles chipped in 13.

None of which could compare to George, who delivered a game-wrecking effort on both sides of the ball, totaling 43 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and five steals.

Still, while the Jazz missed out on a chance to bring a three-game winning streak into their Christmas night game against the Trail Blazers, they nevertheless saw some silver linings in the loss.

“The takeaway on the positive side of the ledger is how we defended in the fourth quarter. I thought our defense improved,” Snyder said. “… Our guys, they competed — I thought we did a better job of attacking them.

“… Right now, I just feel like we’re gonna take a deep breath, get a day off [Sunday] — we’ve been playing a lot of games — hopefully rejuvenate a little bit, enjoy Christmas with our families, prepare, and get ready to go.”