For the first two and a half quarters on Monday night, it was all going so well for the Utah Jazz in their seeding game against the West-leading Lakers.
The ball movement was capitalizing on L.A.‘s overaggressive closeouts, helping to pile up the points in spite of another rough performance beyond the arc. And the defense was holding its own against everyone not named Anthony Davis.
And then, just like that, it all fell apart.
A 19-2 run in the final minutes of the third quarter — fueled by Jazz misses and miscues — pushed the Lakers to a 116-108 victory at The Arena in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
“The shots we got were good looks, and we didn’t make ‘em. And a lot of times when that happens, they’re running out the other way. And the turnovers didn’t help, of course,” coach Quin Snyder said. “… You hit a couple shots and they’re taking it out of the net instead of running at us.”
The result enabled Los Angeles to clinch both the Pacific Division title as well as the top seed in the Western Conference. It also raised more questions about whether this Jazz team has enough pieces without injured scoring forward Bojan Bogdanovic.
Utah is now 1-2 since the season restarted, and 42-25 overall.
Donovan Mitchell scored 33 points for the Jazz, and made fans happy with 12 free-throw attempts. But the majority of his points came before halftime; after the break, the Lakers closed ranks around the All-Star guard and dared his teammates to beat them.
They could not.
Mike Conley added 24 points and eight assists, while Rudy Gobert contributed 16 points and 13 rebounds, but none of the supporting cast contributed much.
Forwards Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale were neither prolific nor efficient, combining for just 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting. Meanwhile, sixth-man flamethrower Jordan Clarkson struggled mightily once again — managing only six points on 2 for 13 from the field.
And the Jazz’s outside shooting remained woefully off-target — as they hit only 12 of 43 for the game.
“I’m glad we got up [more than] 40 3s — but we’re gonna have to make more shots to win,” Snyder said. “… We got great looks. Those are ones we have to take. We got wide-open 3s, we weren’t able to knock them down.”
In spite of all those issues, they were right there until that rough third-quarter stretch.
A Mitchell alley-oop to Gobert made it 71-67 Jazz. Their next 10 offensive possessions, however, saw them miss five shots and commit five turnovers.
And in that span, the Lakers went up by 10.
“They turned the pressure up. I think the biggest thing for us, when they turn the pressure up, we got to be able to execute even better,“ Mitchell said. “We turned the ball over way too many times, they did a great job taking us out of our actions, kind of what OKC did to us, and we just got to find a way to continue to push through.”
Indeed, Utah wound up committing nine turnovers in the period, and Snyder would lament in his TV interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols shortly thereafter that the ball had stopped moving.
And that proved to be a recipe for disaster.
“As good as these guys are in transition … if you give them the ball [like that], it’s gonna be hard to stop them,” Gobert said. “We did a great job for three quarters, and in the third quarter, we gave them the lead with turnovers.”
Still, the Jazz hung in there, whittling away at the lead in the fourth quarter, and three times pulled within half a dozen points.
A cross-over stepback 3 by Davis for a four-point play with 42.1 seconds to go, however, effectively shut the door. Davis finished with 42 points and 12 rebounds.