The Jazz had just gone through what was expected to be a nail-biting six-minute stretch without defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert, and somehow managed to thrive, going up 86-80 against the Timberwolves.
And when the big man checked back in, the Vivint Arena faithful seemed confident the game might be in hand.
Problem is, Utah rarely got either a stop on defense or a bucket on offense thereafter, as Minnesota answered with a game-deciding 23-4 run en route to an eventual 112-102 victory.
The Jazz shot just 36.5% for the game, and no player on the team reached the 20-point benchmark. Star Donovan Mitchell had a particularly difficult night, totaling 17 points, but on 5-for-24 shooting.
Afterward, he blamed himself for trying to play hero ball and costing the team a chance to get back in it.
“We started to just do it individually instead of moving the ball. I took some terrible shots,” Mitchell said. “You know, we played defense, but offense is what hurt us today.”
Well, yes and no.
Mitchell certainly wasn’t alone in his shooting woes. Bojan Bogdanovic was 7 for 17. Joe Ingles started 4 for 6, but missed his final six attempts. Jeff Green was 2 for 8.
Utah actually shot pretty well from 3-point range (12 of 31 for 38.7%) but was pretty abysmal everywhere else, going 23 for 65 (35.4%). The team particularly struggled when it settled for myriad midrange attempts that simply weren’t dropping.
“When we got to the rim, we were much more effective,” coach Quin Snyder noted. “We were able to get offensive rebounds, get a chance to get fouled.”
Meanwhile, after mostly playing solid defense against Minnesota big man Karl-Anthony Towns for much of the night, the Jazz could do little to slow him late.
He was effective at drawing Jazz center Rudy Gobert out of the paint with his efficient long-range shooting, as he nailed three straight during that defining stretch, and nailed 7 of 15 shots overall from 3-point range in finishing with 29 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.
Beyond that, KAT played an excellent two-man game with point guard Jeff Teague, who consistently gained penetration into the lane in the fourth quarter, forcing the Jazz’s defense to scramble too frequently.
Asked what specifically was lacking against the Wolves, Gobert pointed to “our one-on-one defense.
“Obviously, Karl hit a few 3s, but I think I think those 3s were pretty far behind the line. I mean, we played solid defense on him all night,” Gobert added. “But I think it’s up to all of us to stay in front of our man, be more physical and get those rebounds.”
It was a somber finish for a game that, just minutes before, seemed to see the momentum swinging Utah’s way.
When Gobert checked out with three minutes left in the third quarter, the Jazz trailed 71-70. When he checked back in with three minutes gone in the fourth, Utah had outscored the Wolves 15-9 in the stretch to turn it into an 85-80 lead. A Mitchell free throw moments later made it 86-80.
Then came the avalanche where the Jazz got buried.
Mike Conley reiterated Mitchell’s point that, rather than trying to take it all on individually, the Jazz needed to try to dig each other out, and they didn’t.
“We were pressing a little bit. I think they made a run and they started hitting everything, and KAT got going. And every basket, you know, kind of built up for us. And the ball kind of stopped moving a little bit. I thought that we tried to take it upon ourselves individually to try to get us back in the game,” he said. “And some games, we can do that, but most of the time we've got to try to continue to run the system and, you know, stick to it and stick to the game plan. I felt like we kind of got out of that a little bit for those last eight or nine minutes.”
With the defeat, Utah dropped its second straight game and fell to 8-5 on the season.