Atlanta • It never was a good game from the Utah Jazz, but 33 minutes in, it was salvageable. Despite an epic struggle to score all night, the Jazz were within a point of the last-place team in the East and avoiding embarrassment.
But when it felt as though Utah couldn’t fall much further, things took a nosedive.
From that 61-60 point, the Atlanta Hawks (14-32) finished with an avalanche of scoring while the Jazz (19-28) looked limp, lifeless and out of answers.
There have been nights when Utah has scored fewer points, and nights when it has shot worse. But before Monday night, there wasn’t a loss worse than the 104-90 defeat to they took in a mostly empty Philips Arena.
The Jazz themselves were forced to acknowledge that they lost their edge late in the game.
“There were times where we kind of looked like we didn’t want to play, myself included,” rookie guard Donovan Mitchell said. “That’s not us. That’s not our identity. I think we just gotta come out with more life and more energy. I think if we play like we played here, there will be a lot of nights like this”
The game was defined by poor evenings from Utah’s stars. Mitchell had his worst game in months, scoring 13 points on 13 shots, and turning over the ball six times without an assist. Fresh off two good offensive games, Rudy Gobert struggled on offense with six points and just 2-for-6 shooting.
It was telling that the best scoring night came from Alec Burks, who had 17 points while the starters were just 37.5 percent from the field.
But even those problems might’ve been overcome if not for the back-breaking third quarter.
Down by a point at halftime, the Jazz kept pace with the energized Hawks for nine more minutes before Atlanta broke things open with its bench.
It started with a corner 3-pointer from Dewayne Dedmon, then Marco Belinelli hit a floater. Then the bottom came out of the Jazz defense.
Over the next six minutes, the Hawks torched Utah by scoring on 12 of 14 possessions, during which the Jazz managed only one basket. Subs at the fourth quarter break and early on failed to stop the onslaught, as the Hawks sliced their way to the basket and hit outside shots.
All told, it was a 25-3 run, and the Jazz slackened and surrendered.
“I don’t think there’s excuses the way that we broke down defensively,” coach Quin Snyder said. “It continued through substitutions. Collectively we weren’t good. I didn’t think we had a very strong resolve or will.”
There were a few eye-catching stats, including season lows in both 3-pointers made (four) and attempted (15) — the Jazz average twice as many heaves from deep.
But Atlanta’s length forced Utah’s perimeter players to drive inside and try to make plays with mixed results, and Mitchell acknowledged he struggled against the Hawks’ pick-and-roll defense.
All of this, Snyder said, should’ve been countered with more effort on defense. And for most of three quarters, the Jazz had that. They held Atlanta to just 42 points at half, with Gobert looking in fine form with 10 rebounds. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer called it “a long night in the mud.”
But that sharpness on defense dulled. And the Hawks, who have won five of their last seven home games, seemed to gain momentum thanks much in part to the speed of Dennis Schroder, who had 20 points. The Hawks also didn’t have the same outside shooting woes as the Jazz, and finished 12 for 26 from deep.
Utah already had one of the worst road records in the NBA, and the loss dropped them to 5-19 away from Vivint Smart Home Arena with two games remaining on their trip. They also failed to win back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 4, and may have spoiled their best opportunity to do so for a while.
When asked if the Jazz had underestimated the Hawks, Gobert offered grim perspective.
“We don’t underestimate anyone,” he said. “We’re not even in the playoffs right now.”