Perhaps, after building a double-digit first-half lead against the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night, the Jazz were prematurely anticipating the festivities inherent in spending Fat Tuesday in the Crescent City.
Perhaps they looked at a sub-.500 team limiting the minutes of disgruntled superstar Anthony Davis, and didn’t give the same effort they did against top teams like Milwaukee and Denver.
Perhaps the defensive intensity wasn’t up to its usual standards, and an opponent with nothing to lose took advantage.
Whatever the reason — and perhaps it was some combination of all three — after leading by as many as 17 points, the Jazz surrendered a 22-2 run in the fourth quarter, and saw their four-game winning streak improbably snapped with a stunning 115-112 defeat at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
“From the beginning of the game, I feel like we didn’t have enough energy, and they just felt good. They’re a very talented team; even though they don’t have a great record, they’ve been playing well. And we gave them a lot of confidence early in the game,” said Jazz center Rudy Gobert. “… It’s not about them, it’s about us. No matter who we play, we [need to] start the game with the same urgency as if we played the best team in the league.”
The Jazz fell to 36-27 on the season with the loss.
Both Gobert and coach Quin Snyder said the Jazz’s defense was lacking throughout the game.
With Davis totaling 15 points in just 22 minutes, guard Jrue Holiday and big man Julius Randle more than capably filled his shoes, scoring 30 points apiece.
New Orleans hit 47.9 percent of its shots overall, nailed 45 percent from deep, and totaled a whopping 62 points in the paint.
“Our M.O. is we’ve got to play defense, and we didn’t have the level of defense tonight from an execution standpoint,” Snyder said. “And when that happens, you can get beat. And we got beat tonight.”
After leading for most of the game, Utah’s late lack of defense and a corresponding six-minute stretch on offense that yielded only a pair of free throws had them shockingly trailing by six points with less than two minutes to go.
“You can go through a dry spell, which is what that was — it was obviously at an inopportune time — but that’s when your defense needs to carry you,” Snyder said, “and we didn’t have that happen.”
Utah, finally shaken from its stupor, responded with a 7-0 run — fueled by Gobert blocks and Donovan Mitchell layups — to re-take the lead.
But Elfrid Payton calmly sliced through the defense on the other end to make the go-ahead layup. The Jazz decided against calling a timeout, opting to give Mitchell a pick-and-roll and let him go 1-on-1 for the game-winner. However, he was well-covered, and his jumper was offline.
Randle got the rebound, was fouled, and made both free throws with 0.9 seconds remaining. The Jazz turned it over on the ensuing inbounds play, handing the Pelicans the win.
Snyder subsequently took the blame for not adjusting on the fly on Mitchell’s possession.
“In hindsight, I should have called the timeout,” he said. “I thought he had an advantage in the fullcourt, and we like the ball in his hands in space, and that’s what we had. But as the possession evolved, where he wasn’t able to attack right away, that one’s on me. That could’ve been a timeout, reset, and get a look.”
Mitchell, however, said it should never have gotten to that point — saying it was the Jazz’s issues on the other end that ultimately made the difference.
“We can’t rely on that. We’ve got to be able to play defense and then we don’t have to rely on certain shots falling,” Mitchell said. “We were playing with fire.”
Kyle Korver and Jae Crowder had 20 points apiece for the Jazz off the bench, while Mitchell and Gobert each scored 19, the latter adding 19 boards.