For the first three quarters of the Utah Jazz’s penultimate seeding game Monday vs. the Mavericks, they happily moved the ball, rained down 3s, shut down the Mavericks beyond the arc.
And then in the fourth quarter …
They rolled out the tanks.
With Donovan Mitchell sitting out the entire game with an apparent leg injury, and his fellow starters all heading to the bench for good after halftime, Utah relinquished a 22-point lead as Dallas utilized a dominant fourth quarter to surge to a 122-114 victory at AdventHealth Arena in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Apparently, it’s sixth seed or bust for the Jazz.
Coach Quin Snyder said before the game that his priorities right now were keeping the team healthy and developing a new bench rotation to account for the absence of No. 2 scorer Bojan Bogdanovic, while claiming that it made no sense to focus on playoff seeding because “it’s so difficult to tell anything about who you’re going to play.”
However, after the game that concluded with Utah’s end-of-bench guys getting outscored 34-14 in the fourth quarter by some Mavericks rotation regulars, Snyder did not appear particularly discouraged by the Jazz’s third consecutive loss, and their fifth defeat in seven bubble games.
“What I said is how I feel and how we’re looking at it,” Snyder said. “… We’re looking to play well. And sometimes playing well allows you to win the game, sometimes you play well and the other team plays better.”
Well, for three quarters, the Jazz did indeed play pretty well, and in the fourth, the Mavericks pretty definitively played better.
None of Utah’s starters Monday played more than Mike Conley’s 16 minutes, and none of them touched the court in the second half. Still, after drilling 13 shots from behind the arc in the first two quarters, and starting the third quarter on a nice run, the Jazz amassed a 75-56 advantage.
And though that 19-point lead had been trimmed to 12 heading into the game’s final dozen minutes, the team still appeared in decent shape.
That changed pretty quickly.
A late-game rotation that included Ed Davis, Jarrell Brantley, Miye Oni, Rayjon Tucker, Justin Wright-Foreman and Emmanuel Mudiay collectively surrendered a quarter-opening and game-turning 16-0 run that enabled Dallas to sprint ahead.
All in all, after shooting 54.5% from the field through three quarters, the Jazz shot just 3 of 16 in the fourth. The Mavericks, meanwhile, hit 14 of 18 in the period.
And though Snyder continues to extol the virtues of giving additional opportunities to the youngsters, it now seems increasingly apparent that his motivation is avoiding a first-round matchup with the Houston Rockets, who are likely to finish either fourth or fifth in the Western Conference.
Utah fell to 43-28 on the season, but remained half a game back of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who sat out four starters Monday in a 128-101 loss to the Phoenix Suns.
In years past, this Jazz team might be expressing concern at this point about their lack of momentum this close to the postseason. And yet, in the aftermath of Monday’s defeat, there did not appear to be much apprehension about it.
“I think we have pretty much everything figured out,” said forward Georges Niang. “I’m not in on making the decisions on whether guys are resting, I’m not in on if guys need rest or are injured, I just go out there and I do my job, and if my number’s called I just go out there and I play the game.
“I don’t think we need to be worried about having momentum going into the playoffs — I think myself and the guys in this locker room know the magnitude of the playoffs, what it means to be in the playoffs and what it means to be the Jazz and in the playoffs,” he added. “So, I don’t think you can put too much into that.”