Milwaukee • They were already without Dante Exum and Thabo Sefolosha coming in. Then, when the Jazz lost Ricky Rubio just 41/2 minutes into the first quarter Monday night to a hamstring injury, after the point guard had scored nine of the team’s first 11 points, things went from bad to worse.
Hot shooting and strong defense kept them afloat for awhile. But when those went away, so too did their shot at a win.
With the depth depleted, and the legs heavy, the upset attempt against the Bucks — who came into the game with the NBA’s best record — fell apart, as Milwaukee outscored Utah 31-16 in the fourth quarter and prevailed 114-102.
The loss in the finale of the Jazz’s four-game road trip dropped the team to 20-21 at the season’s midway point.
“Some of it’s just when guys find themselves in different situations, they’re just gonna have to dig in. And we have to do it collectively, and that’s gonna be a challenge,” said coach Quin Snyder. “More than anything, we have to stay solid on the defensive end. If we’re worn down, we gotta come together more as a group and continue to execute.”
Asked if he got tired down the stretch as a result of having to take on more of a playmaker role, Donovan Mitchell quickly replied, “No, not at all.”
It’s hard to argue that fatigue — even if only mental — didn’t set in a bit on both ends, though. The game was tied at 92 with 8:51 to play; the Bucks outscored the Jazz 22-9 the rest of the way.
After three competitive quarters, the Jazz’s shots stopped going in late, and they couldn’t keep the Bucks from getting to the basket.
Mitchell, who made 5 of his first 7 attempts from deep, made only 1 of his final 5. He went 0 for 5 overall from the field in the fourth quarter, and didn’t score a point after racking up 26 in the first three periods.
Similarly, after the Jazz collectively hit 8 of 17 from deep early, they made just 6 of their final 21.
“I try my best just to keep the same mindset, ’cause when you start to overthink, that leads to seven turnovers,” said Mitchell, who, coincidentally, had seven turnovers.
Things weren’t going any better on the other end, either, late in the game.
With Rudy Gobert (who totaled 14 points and 15 rebounds) trying to lock down All-NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo (who totaled 30 points and 10 boards, but made just 13 of 30 shots), his teammates needed to keep their assignments out of the lane.
They were largely unsuccessful.
“We got beat off the dribble. Consistently. Guys gotta stay in front of their man,” Snyder said. “When [Brook] Lopez is on the 3-point line and Rudy’s guarding Giannis, everybody’s gotta do a good job trying to stay in front of their guy. There’s not gonna be a lot of help for you. We’ve got guys who are capable — we just have to have a little better focus and execute a little bit better in those situations.”
Raul Neto, the team’s third-string point guard, wound up playing 29 minutes, and totaled 10 points, six rebounds, and five assists. Snyder praised him for his “big heart.” Mitchell noted he “came in and stepped up.”
Indeed, in spite of the defeat, and in spite of Rubio’s injury, though, there were generally positive vibes in the locker room postgame.
“Us missing shots and them continually hitting shots — after a while, mentally, it gets to you. Decisions — especially myself down the stretch — decisions start to falter and waver,” Mitchell said. “But I was really impressed with the way we all competed. At the end of the day, this is a loss, but this is a good sign.”
“I liked our mindset tonight,” he said. “We’ve got to be better at the simple things — one-on-one defense, rebounds, and, offensively, keep shooting that ball. We did it for three quarters, 31/2 I would say. We’re in a good place.”
BUCKS 114, JAZZ 102
• Milwaukee outscores Utah 31-16 to break open a close game.
• Ricky Rubio scored nine of the Jazz’s first 11 points, but exited the game with a right hamstring injury just 4:37 into the game.
• Donovan Mitchell scores 26 points, but none in the fourth quarter, when he shot 0 for 5.