For those tuning in for the final two minutes, it seemed to be a nail-biter.
The Utah Jazz were clawing at the finish, closing a 12-point gap to only three with 10.7 seconds remaining. The Philadelphia 76ers seemed surprised by the rally, having to call a timeout to ensure running out of Vivint Smart Home Arena with a 104-97 win.
But there was nothing quite straightforward about Utah’s third straight defeat — a cringe-worthy shooting performance fraught with communication issues. The rally at the finish had been preceded by booing from the home crowd, which had started leaving en masse with more than four minutes to go as Philadelphia sailed to a 15-point lead.
Even the Jazz (5-6) themselves had a hard time putting words to it, but there was an unmistakable air of frustration afterward.
“Right now, I think we’re a little too much in our head,” said Thabo Sefolosha, who finished with eight points. “We worry about not making shots and things like that. But those things take care of themselves. I think it’s mostly communication on the defensive end.”
The headliner was the misses: Utah hit only 30 of its 99 attempts for a season-low shooting percentage. And there was no one person at whom to point the finger.
Ricky Rubio started out 0 for 6 on the way to an 11-point night, although he added a team-best eight assists. Rodney Hood similarly started out slow and was supplanted in the second-half starting lineup, but got hot late for a team-high 19. Joe Ingles was 6 for 16 as well, but the most errant shooter was rookie Donovan Mitchell, who was 3 for 21.
It got interesting at the end: A Sefolosha layup and Rudy Gobert free throws (16 points, 15 rebounds) gave Utah some life. Then after Rodney Hood canned a corner 3-pointer, the Sixers turned the ball over. Gobert scored on the ensuing possession, cutting the gap to three points, but Philadelphia closed out the game with free throws in the last seconds.
Coach Quin Snyder’s initial impression postgame was that many of those misses came on decent looks — Utah hadn’t managed to sink them. The beginning of each half, when Utah gave up 23-10 and 21-7 runs, had given them the loss in the end.
“I don’t think philosophically what we did offensively was that far off from what we want to be,” he said. “You could argue during certain stretches for more ball movement, but there are times when they take something away and guys have to create and make a play.”
During one first-quarter stretch, the Jazz didn’t score a field goal for 5:22 in a 16-4 rally for the Sixers — broken up only by free throws by light-scoring center Ekpe Udoh. But Philadelphia went cold during the second quarter, allowing Utah to erase a 13-point gap.
At halftime, locked in a 48-46 game, the Sixers and the Jazz had shown at least a similar lack of shooting touch.
More concerning were some elementary mistakes from a Jazz defense that came into the season hoping to be one of the elite units in the NBA. The Jazz left shooters open, gave cutters back lanes to the basket and often seemed confused on assignments.
Dario Saric finished with a game-high 25 points, a matchup problem for Utah as a stretch five. J.J. Redick was also able to shake free at times, scoring 20 points.
While the Jazz finished overall with respectable stats — allowing 42 percent shooting and getting 14 steals — Snyder acknowledged the numbers were somewhat deceptive. If not for several Sixers misses on open shots, it might’ve been a more lopsided game.
“Communication is the biggest issue defensively,” he said. “We just can’t afford those. Our margin, when we don’t shoot well ... is very small. Those defensive breakdowns have a huge impact on the game.”