There were seemingly enough missed shots to last a season. There were untimely turnovers. There were gasps from the sellout crowd at Vivint Smart Home Arena, many not believing what they were seeing. There was a tight home team, hanging its collective head every time it built a lead and surrendered it.
And in the end, there was a missed opportunity for the Utah Jazz, as they fell on Tuesday night 99-94 to the lowly Atlanta Hawks.
The same Atlanta Hawks who had previously lost six consecutive games.
The same Atlanta Hawks who two months ago dropped the Jazz to 19-28 with a 104-90 victory that became the rallying point for Utah’s playoff push.
The same Atlanta Hawks who are now just 21-50 on the season.
As the Jazz came into the night in the sixth spot of the Western Conference with a chance to move to fifth, their worst game in two months instead dropped them into the eighth spot. And now, Utah’s playoff stability is suddenly more tenuous.
“We weren’t connected tonight on offense,” Jazz rookie guard Donovan Mitchell said. “We missed too many easy shots and we turned the ball over too much. And when you do those things, it puts too much pressure on your defense. And that’s what we did tonight.”
The numbers offensively for the Jazz were ugly: They shot 6 of 34 from 3-point range. They shot 37 percent overall. Joe Ingles shot 1 of 8 from three, including a potential game-tying three in the waning seconds. Mitchell shot 1 of 10 from beyond the arc.
And then, there was Dennis Schroder.
The Hawks point guard torched the Jazz on Tuesday night, scoring a game-high 41 points. In 35 minutes, he made 16 of his 28 shots. He came up with seven assists and grabbed five rebounds.
Whenever Atlanta needed a basket, Schroder was there. Time and again, he beat his man off the dribble, got to the rim and scored. He put in floaters in the lane over Rudy Gobert. He hit threes, he hit midrange shots and he got to the free-throw line at will. He scored 17 points in the fourth quarter alone, singlehandedly carrying Atlanta down the stretch.
“He was special tonight,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think his ability to finish in the paint was great tonight. He locked in on Donovan Mitchell the last three or four minutes of the game. He played a great floor game. He asked for the switch onto Mitchell and I think he did a great job there.”
The Jazz have been winning because they’ve been able to rely on guys to play well in most games. But, on Tuesday night, many of those respective wells ran dry. Gobert was his usual self, scoring 15 points and grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking two shots. But Mitchell and Ingles both had issues making plays down the stretch. And Utah’s bench score just 16 collective points, which put a lot of stress on the starting unit to produce.
Utah clearly missed Derrick Favors, who sat out with knee soreness. In his stead, Jonas Jerebko failed to score and went 0 of 4 from the field in 13 minutes.
Most importantly, the Jazz failed to hold multiple leads. When they took a 58-48 advantage with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Hawks erased it in less than two minutes.
When Utah led 81-75 with a little over six minutes remaining, Atlanta responded with an 8-1 run to take an 83-82 lead. Once the Jazz realized the Hawks weren’t going to roll over, they played tight, concerned basketball. And that allowed Atlanta to take control of a game it had no business being in.
“When you’re not making shots, you’ve got to figure out other ways to score,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “We didn’t make shots, and we weren’t very good at the rim either. It’s tough to overcome both of those things.”
The Jazz fall to 40-31 on the season with the defeat. Mitchell led the way with 24 points, while Ricky Rubio had 23 points.