Los Angeles • Utah’s winning streak being snapped at the hands of the Lakers seemed too improbable going into Sunday night’s game at Staples Center, considering L.A. was playing without rotation regulars LeBron James, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Tyson Chandler, and Reggie Bullock.
Improbable, though obviously not impossible.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and L.A. made all the tough shots down the stretch that the Jazz could not, and pulled off a stunning 113-109 upset that ended the Jazz’s win streak at seven.
The loss was just Utah’s second in its past 14 games, but it was a costly one — dropping the team to 49-31 on the season, and dealing a serious blow to the Jazz’s chances of gaining the fourth seed in the Western Conference and hosting a first-round playoff series.
Coach Quin Snyder, asked afterward if perhaps his team overlooked an opponent stocked with G League call-ups that simply had nothing to lose, wasn’t having it.
“They’re NBA players — they played hard and they played well. They outplayed us,” he said. “They worked harder and got rewarded. That’s the way the game is, and that’s the way it should be.”
The tone for potential impending disaster was sounded from the outset, as a seemingly lethargic Jazz team struggled through an eye-opening opening period.
Utah’s lackadaisical perimeter defense contributed to L.A. racking up 22 points in the paint — due to JaVale McGee feasting down low — and racing out to a seven-point advantage.
Following that, though, Utah seemed to get things figured things out and managed to turn the tide.
In the second quarter, the Jazz made 55% of their shots overall, went 7 for 14 from deep (after a 1-for-9 effort in the first), and held the Lakers to 30.8% shooting — outscoring them 32-20 to take a five-point advantage into the break.
Once the lead reached 10 in the third, it seemed inevitable they would pull away.
Instead, the Jazz fell apart.
The entire lead was gone before the quarter was over, and Los Angeles was went up multiple buckets a few minutes into the quarter.
Time and again, the Jazz rallied, closed the distance, then surrendered another crucial big play — an offensive rebound allowed, leading to another possession; a too-clean look allowed at a trey; a failure to pull the trigger on a good shot and eventually clanking a worse one.
Asked if the Jazz played with a lack of urgency, Snyder concurred.
“I think we did tonight. We won some games, so sometimes that masks some things we need to work on. Fundamentally, the things that we need to do to win … if that’s not our focus, then we’re not gonna be as good as we wanna be. It’s that simple,” he said. “It’s not something we’re unfamiliar with — that’s been a tendency this year. We get ahead and we forget why we got ahead and why we’ve been successful. Those are things everybody’s got to hang on to really tight.”
Caldwell-Pope scored 18 of his 32 points in the final quarter — then sealed the deal for good by driving right to left across the lane, drawing Rudy Gobert out to close off his path, then lofting a perfectly placed alley-oop to McGee for a five-point lead with 15.6 seconds to play.
Gobert finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds; Donovan Mitchell added 19 points (on 5-for-17 shooting) and five assists; Georges Niang scored 16 points off the bench; Thabo Sefolosha had 13 points and five steals; and Joe Ingles totaled 12 points and eight assists.
In the end, though, the only numbers that mattered were the big ones from the crucial final period — with the game on the line, L.A. drilled 13 of 19 fourth-quarter shots (68.4%) while Utah went 8 for 24.
And so, Snyder wasn’t interested in talking about season records or playoff seeding — he simply wanted his players to realize that winning streak or not, depleted opponent or not, it doesn’t matter if you don’t continue to improve.