It was just a regular-season game.
Just a regular-season loss to the Phoenix Suns.
I mean, the Portland Trail Blazers were next up the very next day.
But it seemed like more than that. It seemed like a warning.
A red flare that for all the wins the Jazz have stacked up this season — they still own the best record in the NBA — and so many losses they’ve avoided, there is a blemish smack dab in all the beauty. It’s potentially worse than that, really. But it could also be better.
“We weren’t as dialed in as we needed to be,” Quin Snyder said afterward.
Which is to say, the Jazz, against a team hot on their tail in the Western Conference standings, weren’t aggressive enough at the start — Snyder came right out and said that, too — in creating the proper spacing needed to feel comfortable doing what they usually do best at the offensive end. Their attack was missing its teeth against a quality opponent, and gumming the Suns to death wasn’t going to work, even as the deep shots still went up.
And rarely went down.
We can argue now over from where the phrase came, or who made it most famous, whether it was from an old, dusty Greek play or from the Gospel of Matthew (it’s been attributed to both), but the shortened and familiarized version in more modern times is this:
“He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.”
Either way, call it a gospel truth as it pertains to the Jazz, and for them, the sharp blade is the 3-point shot.
They live and win by it and they die and lose by it — with this significant twist: Not so much from the swordsmanship of the other guys, although that can also happen, rather by way of their own handling and mishandling of so much wielding.
Ultimately, they stab themselves.
Against the Suns, sing a requiem for the defeated. The fact that it happened in overtime should have soothed no soul.
The method by which the Jazz had hauled in 38 victories to that point, the one that has propelled them in the minds of some, certainly themselves, toward real contention this season absolutely betrayed them on Wednesday.
On that occasion, in this game, their remarkable season percentage from deep — 39.5 percent coming in — sank to just 25 percent. It was pretty much the only thing that sank against the Suns. Just 11 bombs dropped out of 44 attempts.
The Jazz heaved and they heaved and they heaved again, their follow-throughs looking more like flailing arms and hands, as they hoped and hoped for a few bits of relief.
Even though the game, as mentioned, went into overtime and the Jazz had their chances to win it, those bits never came consistently, and neither did the rebounds, as the Suns out-boarded the Jazz, 61-45, including a nine-rebound edge on the offensive glass.
Has anyone noticed that on the nights when a couple of Jazz shooters start hitting, they all start hitting, and when a couple of them miss, a whole bunch of them start missing? It’s as though it spreads in one direction or the other, like some kind of contagion … um, no, at this juncture, let’s find a different analogy.
It’s all or nothing at all, and as Snyder suggested it’s not just the heavy chucking, it’s what leads up to it that’s the problem.
So it was one game. Big deal, right?
If that’s what it was, all good.
But as the Suns crept within 1.5 games of the Jazz’s shrinking lead in the West, the consideration bumped hard into place that maybe it was more than just that, and it’s not all good.
Think of it in these obvious terms: When the Jazz head into the playoffs, from whatever spot they earn between now and then, they’ll face only the better teams, teams that will know exactly what shots the Jazz favor — at the rim via Rudy Gobert dunks and Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley drives and around the arc with those long balls. If opponents, in wholly disentangled terms, close down the 3-pointers by jamming the shooters, how will the Jazz get by?
Shooting from deep has sometimes, at least in certain cases, been an intricate and fickle deal, as has depending on it to consistently win when the pressure is on. But not always. According to data gathered over the past 10 seasons and postseasons, a slight drop-off in shooting percentages from beyond the arc from the regular season to the playoffs does exist, but not any more than the drop-off in percentages for 2-point shots.
The difficulty in drawing a conclusion from that data is that there are variables from team to team.
In other words, the Jazz’s dependency on shooting and making so many 3s — they rank first in the NBA in average number attempted per game (43) and now fourth in percentage of makes, could help them.
But it could also hurt them, depending on how clutch those Jazz shooters are in playoff conditions, on particular matchups against certain teams that are more adept at defending deep shots, and on alternating adjustments that are made by a clever opposing coach in elongated best-of-seven playoff series.
If they shoot the long ball the way they did against the Magic the other night (26-55), they’ll roll. If they shoot it the way they did against the Mavs on Monday (12-44) and the Suns on Wednesday … their outlook is clouded.
In the Jazz’s 13 losses, their average 3-point percentages were 29.4, 35.3, 32.4, 31.8, 42.6, 35.3, 32.6, 39.5, 47.7, 34.1, 37.5, 27.3, 25.0, which reveals that in only three of those defeats did the Jazz meet their own standard from range.
While the Jazz’s defense has been mostly impressive, it’s not dominant enough to dependably overcome that kind of diminished accuracy.
All of which means, simplified and twisted though it may be, they’ll live by the bomb and they’ll die by it, just like the Greek tragedy projected and the Good Book preached a couple of thousand seasons ago.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.