Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 148-147 double-overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz lose double-overtime thriller
One of the best basketball games of the entire NBA season ended in a loss for the Utah Jazz. It’s hard to discuss what exactly went down, because so much did. A quick recap:
- The Jazz had a 10-point lead with about nine minutes left in the fourth thanks to the Jazz’s bench just destroying OKC’s unit. Dennis Schroder was making bad decisions for OKC, while Raul Neto, Jae Crowder, and Derrick Favors really carried the Jazz’s offense. Favors was masterful diving to the rim and getting putbacks as well, while Crowder’s shot was going down late.
- OKC put its starters back in to go on a 8-0 run. Honestly, there wasn’t much Jazz could do: Russell Westbrook made a three the Jazz were happy to have him take, while Paul George hit a tough one.
- Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, and Rudy Gobert worked very well together to take the lead back, gaining a 7-point lead on a Jingles 3 with 2:27 left in regulation. But then, disaster struck: Rubio turned the ball over, then Favors passed the ball out of bounds on a simple reset pass. Mitchell and Favors both went for an easy defensive rebound, and knocked it out of bounds. All of these mistakes were countered by OKC baskets, and it’s a tie game.
- Mitchell, though, made the right reads in the game’s final minute of regulation, scoring at the rim with a layup, then kicking it out when the defense collapses as Rubio hits a three to put the Jazz up 3. But two critical Gobert fouls gave OKC the free points it needed to go to OT.
- Jazz started the first overtime on a 4-0 run, but a missed shot by Rubio, then another turnover by Rubio ended that quickly. But Mitchell’s attacking prowess first fouled out Terrence Ferguson, then Russell Westbrook fouled out in hyper-aggression mode a minute later. With only star Paul George in the game, the Jazz doubled PG, but George smartly swung the ball to an open Abdel Nader for the three. Gobert followed a Mitchell miss to tie the game. George and Mitchell traded misses to send the game to a second OT.
- Jerami Grant hit a three to open the second overtime, but the Jazz came back with Mitchell, then an open Ingles three to re-tie the game. Gobert’s efforts on the glass and inside earned him four FTs, and he made three of them to give the Jazz a one-point lead. But with the ball, a gassed Mitchell’s bank shot doesn’t draw iron, forcing Ingles to chuck up a 30-footer as the shot clock expires. That missed, and Paul George came down the other way for a game-winning floater over the leaping Gobert.
To be honest, you should probably just watch the video.
I mean, how do you begin to assign credit and blame here? Would the Jazz have won without Rubio committing eight turnovers in the game? Probably. Would they have made it to 2OT without him making three of his four 3-point shots, including the crucial one in the final minute of regulation? Probably not. Would the Jazz have won without Gobert committing those fouls at the end of regulation, or if he makes all four FTs late? Probably. Would they have made it to 2OT without the brilliant putbacks or the rolls he made to the rim? Probably not.
You can even do this with Mitchell, who was fantastic, scoring 38 points. Do the Jazz have even a shot at a chance in this game without Mitchell? Of course not. Do you wish he would have attacked the rim at the end of the first overtime, or drawn iron on his final shot? Of course.
You can do this with Favors or Crowder or Ingles or even Korver. It just feels really, really cruel to assign the credit or blame to any player tonight, when they all contributed to what would have been one of the best wins of the Jazz’s season, and became one of the worst-feeling ones.
In the end, one point separated the Jazz from a win. One Paul George incredible floater over the longest defensive player in the league jumping to block it got the Thunder the victory tonight. In my opinion, it’s just really hard to be mad about that.
2. Encouraging notes, discouraging notes for potential playoff series
At this point in the season, the odds are pretty good that the Jazz will face one of the following four teams in the first round of the NBA playoffs: Denver, Portland, Houston, or Oklahoma City. A San Antonio/Utah 4-5 matchup isn’t out of the question, but those look like the most likely opponents.
Given the improvements to Oklahoma City’s team this year, there are real questions about whether or not the same tricks that the Jazz used to defeat the Thunder could still be used in the 2018-19 season. There’s no Carmelo Anthony or Raymond Felton for the Jazz to kick around, and instead, the Thunder have relied much more on Jerian Grant and Schroder. Plus, George is playing at a whole new level; he’s been one of the top-5 players in the league this season.
So we saw the Thunder, the best turnover-forcing defense in the league, force a ton of turnovers: 25, in fact, for the Jazz. That’s what you’d expect, though I certainly think there were turnovers in that game that the Jazz could have cleaned up. But despite that, the Jazz still scored: they got a ton of open looks, and did a pretty decent job of making them, too. The Jazz took 47 shots at the rim tonight, and 40 threes, leaving only 17 mid-range attempts. Overall, they had a 116 defensive rating.
That’s because, even when the Thunder don’t have 'Melo, they still play hyper-aggressive on defense. Sometimes, that means even when the Jazz have the ball 35 feet away from the basket, they can just find Ingles open in the opposite-side corner anyway:
And even when it’s Rubio with the ball, they pay him enough defensive mind that they get into rotation help situations, leaving big men open inside.
Now, with the way Rubio turned the ball over tonight, that strategy paid off. But if he’s able to keep those turnovers down — or if the Jazz find more success with another secondary ball-handler like Exum or Neto instead — the Jazz should be able to exploit the Thunder’s defense even in a playoff situation. One of the strengths of this team is ball movement, and they should be able to use that against OKC moving forward.
The bad news is that the Jazz’s defense wasn’t up to par tonight, with numerous defensive mistakes. Here, Royce O’Neale cheats while navigating screens and lets George, one of the game’s most dangerous shooters, get a wide-open one.
And on the game’s final play, George was able to split the trap between Ingles and Rubio. While it was a great move, it’s also possible he shouldn’t have gotten the chance to hit the floater over Gobert.
This might just be glass-half-full optimism, but given what I’ve seen from this Jazz team in the past, I believe that the defense will tighten up by the playoffs, and they should still be able to rely on the ball movement to get good looks. Whether the talent will make them is another question, as is whether or not OKC’s talent can beat improved Jazz defense anyway. It was a loss, yes, but one that showed the Jazz can still play at OKC’s level.
3. Not calling timeout
With so many important possessions tonight, both coaches showed a preference: they’d rather let their players have a chance to run a play themselves in transition rather than calling timeout and setting up a play. That went well only once out of five times: the George floater to win it. A team did call timeout once, when OKC called one to draw up a George three, which missed. Of course, the Jazz called timeout with 0.8 seconds left in 2OT, but they had to in order to advance the ball. Other than that, it was open play.
The strategy makes sense. Right now, the Jazz this year have scored 0.98 points per possession after a timeout this season. But after a make, they’re scoring 1.06 points per possession, and after a miss, they’re scoring 1.08 points per possession.
The same math is a little sketchier for the more-offensively-talented OKC: they’re scoring 1.08 points per possession after a timeout this year, while scoring 1.05 after a made basket and 1.09 after an opponent miss. Maybe that’s why we saw Donovan use both strategies.
Of course, those numbers all miss an important confounding aspect: that teams have limited time to score in end-of-game scenarios. Neither team will have a large enough sample-size in those times to know if it makes sense for each team, but in general, I’d prefer to have Mitchell, Westbrook, or George attack a back-pedaling defense than one that’s already set.