Utah Jazz bounce back from wretched start, but fall short in OT in showdown vs. Suns

After scoring a season-low 40 points before halftime, the Jazz have their chances late, only to see crucial errors seal their fate in a 117-114 loss in Phoenix.

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson has the ball stripped away by Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, right, as Suns forward Cameron Johnson, left, defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, April 7, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Turns out that even when the Utah Jazz are playing absolutely wretchedly, they’re still a pretty excellent basketball team.

In Wednesday night’s much-publicized 1-vs.-2 showdown in Phoenix, the Jazz played arguably their worst offensive half of the season — totaling 40 first-half points, shooting 17 of 49 overall, going 3 for 21 from 3-point range, amassing just four assists.

And in spite of all of that detritus, they were only down 11.

Then in the third quarter, Utah scored 38 points, hit 15 of 25 shots, went 4 of 7 from 3-point range, and racked up six assists.

Their matchup vs. the Suns proved every bit the postseason atmosphere that fans and national broadcaster ESPN hoped for — the outcome remaining in question all the way until the end, with Phoenix ultimately prevailing 117-113 in overtime.

“At the end of the day, that was playoff basketball,” said Donovan Mitchell, who instigated the comeback with eight consecutive points early in the third quarter en route to 41 overall. “It’s not always going to be 60-point halves, 70-point halves; there are going to be halves like this — we just got to continue to fight through.”

The contest once again exposed some problem areas for the Jazz: an offense that bogs down when it tilts too isolation-heavy … difficulty defending the midrange … continuing to allow too many transition opportunities … surrendering offensive rebounds and second-chance points.

It also highlighted some incredible strengths: Mitchell’s capacity to take over as a clutch scorer, national pundits’ insistence that Utah doesn’t have an “elite” guy notwithstanding … absolutely lockdown halfcourt defense … an offense that becomes lethally efficient when it eschews solely firing away from beyond the arc and mixes in some getting to the rim.

In the end, the Jazz dropped a second straight game against a second straight presumptive Western Conference postseason qualifier. In the end, Utah fell to 0-2 on the season against the Suns.

And yet, the way the team bounced back from its awful start, they couldn’t come away feeling too horribly.

Disappointed, yes, but not distraught.

“We didn’t come out as aggressive as we needed to — not just with the ball, but running, spacing,” coach Quin Snyder said. “We weren’t attacking. They were dictating to us on the defensive end. … They’re a good defensive team, and we weren’t as dialed-in as we needed to be in order to attack them.”

They’ll come away realizing that, if not for allowing three offensive rebounds on a single possession deep in the fourth that ultimately culminated in a DeAndre Ayton tip-in, maybe the result is different. If not for a blown switch between Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale, maybe Chris Paul doesn’t have such a great look at a 3 to put the Suns up five in OT. Maybe — again — if they control the boards, they don’t surrender yet another offensive rebound that bleeds away 10 precious seconds in the final half-minute of the extra session.

And, finally, if Mitchell doesn’t miss the first of two free throws with less than 10 seconds to go …

Well, you get the point.

They shot just 11 of 44 from 3-point range.

Conley shot just 5 for 16, Jordan Clarkson was 4 of 12, Georges Niang went 1 for 5, and O’Neale 1 for 3.

They wound up allowing 16 offensive rebounds and surrendering 18 second-chance points.

They were outrebounded 69-53 in total.

Bojan Bogdanovic, who shot 1 for 8 from deep but 7 of 9 everywhere else in totaling 20 points, said his biggest failing was not in missing a bunch of shots beyond the arc, but in not doing more to help Rudy Gobert (18 rebounds) control the glass.

“We all got to get the rebounds — especially me. I played more than 30 minutes with one board. I’ve got to be more aggressive and help my teammates,” he said. “Rudy is doing a great job on guarding pick-and-roll, so we’ve got to all get there and grab those those long rebounds.”

Such small details can have such a huge impact, as Wednesday night proved.

Of course, Wednesday night also proved

And they lost by just three points … to the team with the second-best record in the league … on the road … in overtime … in a playoff atmosphere.

The end result was a loss that dropped Utah to 38-13 on the season. Now the Jazz must make it mean something.

“We’ll certainly look at this and pick up some big-picture things, as well as some of the smaller things and various plays. But it’s good to be in games like this,” Snyder said. “Obviously, you would hope that it turns out the other way, but these are the types of games you want to be in. You want to feel what it’s like to be in them and you want to figure out how you can win ‘em.”

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