Utah Jazz searching for silver linings after déjà vu all over again against the Wolves

Jazz had a chance to win Monday, but uncharacteristically poor shooting and a critical defensive lapse in the final seconds seal their fate in 105-104 loss, earning them a season sweep at the hands of Minnesota.

Minnesota Timberwolves' Naz Reid (11) drives on Utah Jazz's Georges Niang (31) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 26, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

If you tuned in to watch Monday’s Utah Jazz-Minnesota Timberwolves rematch and didn’t pay attention to, y’know, the big Wolves logo at center court, among other things, you could be forgiven for believing it was a replay of Saturday’s matchup.

A brilliant first quarter for the Jazz, and an epic collapse thereafter.

What remains to be seen is just how problematic it is that Monday’s 105-104 defeat didn’t follow the same script as Saturday’s game, but nevertheless yielded the same result.

For what it’s worth, Utah’s coach and players argued afterwards that not getting flustered and overwhelmed by Minnesota’s aggression and physicality this time, not giving the game away with turnovers and transition, offensive rebounds and second-chance points constitutes some measure of progress.

“The things that cost us the game the other night were things that we addressed,” coach Quin Snyder said. “… This isn’t a moral victory, but this is specific to the mentality that we have to have in order to be successful.”

Now, if only they could find a way to be successful against the Timberwolves …

They certainly had their chances. But in the end, they were on the wrong end of a season series sweep, and found themselves the bizarre benefactors of three of Minnesota’s mere 18 wins this season.

That’s galling enough.

But to lose the game because they were abysmal from 3-point range and because Rudy Gobert of all people fouled up a defensive sequence with the game on the line?

That’s bad to worse, insult to injury, salt in the wound, et cetera, et cetera.

After blowing an 18-point lead, falling behind by 13, rallying back, then taking the lead with 5.9 seconds to play following a Mike Conley step-back 3 that — contrary to what occurred for most of the night — actually went in, the Jazz seemed poised to earn a win almost in spite of themselves.

And then Gobert improbably, head-scratchingly, jaw-droppingly messed up.

Wolves flamethrower D’Angelo Russell set a screen to try and free Karl-Anthony Towns. Conley read the play correctly and switched onto Towns, trying to push him out toward midcourt. Gobert, meanwhile, did not, and also chased after Towns, leaving Russell open for the inbound pass, and with a path as wide as an eight-lane highway to the hoop for what would prove to be the winning points.

“It’s totally on me. You know, [Conley] was already out there — we switched, and I should have recognized that. He did what he was supposed to do, and I didn’t. [It was] 200% on me,” Gobert said. “… It’s one of those plays, when you watch the replay, you just feel dumb, you know?”

Of course, if the Jazz had just shot the ball anywhere close to what they usually do, it wouldn’t have come down to that.

In the opening period, Utah was not exactly blistering the nets, but they were converting enough, draining 7 of 18 tries from deep.

Over the next two quarters, they went a combined 2 of 25 beyond the arc.

Joe Ingles began the game by making 3 of 4 shots — only to clank his final 10.

Jordan Clarkson was 5 of 20 overall, and 1 of 10 from deep.

Bojan Bogdanovic made just 1 of 11 field goals — and was relegated to the bench down the stretch, replaced by Georges Niang, a rare bright spot who made a quartet of 3s in the final period.

Utah finished 16 of 57 from 3-point range — 28.1%.

They couldn’t even blame the Wolves’ swarming, hyper-aggressive defense this time, either — they got a boatload of open looks that simply didn’t go in.

Still, even as fans were howling online for the team to maybe forego the deep stuff and venture inside every once in awhile, the Jazz found some silver lining in the fact that they went executed their game plan exactly as they wanted to — they just simply missed shots they normally make.

Even though the loss stings, those are results they can live with.

“We’re a team that relies on our guys making making open shots, shooting open shots, and creating for each other. And we’ve had opportunities in the last two games. And we’ve had uncharacteristic-type performances from a lot of people,” said Conley — the team’s lone consistent threat all night, as he finished with 26 points (on 10 for 19 shooting), nine rebounds, and seven assists. “And a lot of us have probably watched the film and stepped back and thought about every shot we’ve taken, and wishing we had them back because they’re good looks and we should take them every single time.”

They will live with their process of continuing to fire away, even as they consistently failed to connect.

Which isn’t to say they aren’t upset with the loss. The point guard was clearly miffed about both the miscommunication between himself and Gobert, as well as the Jazz’s final possession getting blown up by poor spacing, leading to a game-ending turnover — but he bit his tongue.

This was one loss … well, two, technically.

And the Jazz are trying to keep in mind the bigger picture.

“We’re still very confident,” Conley said. “We’ve had some uncharacteristic nights… just nights that we’ll look back and realize that they made us better as a team, they made us better as a whole.”

Unless, of course, they keep playing the same repeat.