Kind of crazy to think that, midway through the second quarter of Sunday night’s first-round playoff opener, the Utah Jazz appeared on the verge of running away with the game.
Their defense was so thoroughly suffocating that, in spite of shooting just 3 of 15 beyond the arc and committing 11 turnovers themselves at that point, they were up 34-21 and looking well on their way to a 1-0 series lead against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Kind of crazy.
That proved to be high point of the game for the Jazz, who continued to miss from 3, continued to cough the ball up at an alarming rate, and could not continue to make up for it by keeping the Grizz at bay.
And so, the team’s day-long Donovan-gate drama went from bad to worse, as the confident, aggressive, swaggering eighth-seeded Grizzlies rallied and rolled to a 112-109 victory over the top-seeded Jazz at Vivint Arena.
“We didn’t execute,” forward Bojan Bogdanovic explained simply.
Utah had some spurts as the game progressed to keep hope alive — that third-quarter run that brought them to within a point … Bogdanovic’s heroic efforts in the fourth …
Problem is, despite all the complaining about the foul calls and inconsistent officiating, despite the annoying histrionics of provocateur extraordinaire Dillon Brooks, despite the frequent trash-talking that devolved into chippiness and extracurriculars, this result came down to two simple factors:
Too many empty possessions, and not getting enough stops.
“When we don’t make quick decisions, if the ball doesn’t move, [if] we hold it, I think that’s when their length and physicality catches up, because they’re able to shift and lock in,” coach Quin Snyder said. “Our reads before we get the ball — whether it’s to shoot it or move it or drive it — have to improve.”
After rallying from 17 down in the fourth and to within four points in the final minute, MikeConley could not knock down an open 3 … and the Jazz could not stop burgeoning star Ja Morant from converting on the other end.
That sequence was pretty emblematic of their evening as a whole.
Utah wound up shooting just 12 of 47 from 3-point range (25.5%). They also wound up with far fewer possessions for the game as a result of committing 16 turnovers and allowing 16 offensive rebounds.
They made just 5 of 20 shots in the pivotal second quarter, when the game’s momentum swung.
They allowed Brooks to go off in the third quarter — sparking a critical 10-0 Grizzlies spurt.
And despite seeing Bogdanovic nearly pull it off single-handedly in the final period — where he scored 20 of his 29 points — even his last-ditch attempt, a 29-foot fadeaway with 1.9 seconds to go, wound up careening wildly off the backboard.
[Read more: Complete Utah Jazz playoff coverage]
While Snyder contended the Jazz had their share of open looks throughout the contest, and they did, he also reiterated that there were too many possessions where Utah’s indecision with the ball played right into Memphis hands.
The Grizzlies’ swarmed on man-to-man perimeter attacks, they cut off angles, they got their hands in passing lanes, they generally mucked things up.
And Utah’s players acknowledged they didn’t handle it well.
“They’re a very physical team. Obviously, they lead the league in creating turnovers. That’s because they’ve got some defenders that really get up into you and and force you into tough decisions,” Conley said. “We just let that kind of get the best of us. … They’re a team that’s going to try and create havoc.”
Gobert was emphatic in his agreement when asked what turned the game around.
“Turnovers. We gave them way too many easy points in transition from turning the ball over,” he said. “We know that when they play against our halfcourt defense, it’s a different story. … We have to play through their physicality and take better care of the ball.”
The Jazz know they let one get away.
While the masses will second-guess the decision to sit Mitchell, and while fans pouring out of the Viv were complaining about Gobert fouling out in less than 25 minutes of action, or missing Conley for that long stretch of the third quarter, or Brooks’ maddening antics, the Jazz will look at their mistakes.
They didn’t knock down shots they normally do. They weren’t as precise as they normally are. They couldn’t get enough stops when they absolutely needed some (Memphis shot 52% in the pivotal fourth quarter).
And they still had a look at a game-tying 3 before the final horn.
Kind of crazy.
“I was happy with the fact that we fought and gutted it out and were back in the game there at the end. But I think we all know we need to play better and we need to execute better,” Snyder said.
Game 2 is Wednesday night at 8 p.m. at Vivint Arena.