Donovan Mitchell wasn’t sullen or moody or distraught or despondent.
He was defiant.
The Utah Jazz had just blown a 21-point lead and lost a crucial game 111-107 against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.
Against a team missing Steph Curry and itself reeling down the season’s stretch run, Utah shot 6 for 21 in the fourth quarter, committed five turnovers, and couldn’t get a stop when it needed one. The multifaceted meltdown would be shocking if it wasn’t absolutely so commonplace at this point. This was the Jazz’s 15th loss this season after leading a game by double digits.
And so, normally, you’d expect the Jazz to trot out the by-now well-worn clichés they always seem to go to after such a loss — “We just need to get healthy” … “We just need to be playing our best at the right time” … “We know what we need to do, we just need to do it.”
This time, though, it was different.
This time, Mitchell just straight-up said the Jazz will somehow find a way to get that issue resolved.
“We have a group of guys — including myself — where it’s gonna feel good when we figure it out,” he said. “So, we can sit here and feel sorry for ourselves or we can use it as fuel. And I think we have a group of guys who want to do that. Yeah, we messed up. We’ve messed up fourth quarters 14 times, 15 times — how do we respond, how do we adjust? That’s really where I’m at, that’s where we’re at. We’ll figure it out.”
Some components of it they seemed to latch onto right away.
This team has a habit of playing beautiful, team-oriented basketball for extended stretches (like, say, long enough to build a 21-point lead), only to then devolve into horrifically inefficient isolation play late that stalls the offense, leads to easy buckets the other way, and effectively kills all momentum.
Utah’s coach and one of its stars said as much postgame.
“The other night [vs. the Clippers] we played really well for three quarters; tonight we played really well for 42 minutes. It was some of the same things that we’re working to overcome,” said Quin Snyder. “… I don’t think we were in a good place for the last six minutes, and it’s not a good feeling in the locker room right now, because guys want to win. But along with that, we need to understand that when we play a certain way, and we continue to play that way — whether it’s in transition, after a made basket, if they’re trapping us, they’re switching — the theme has to be that we play together and move the ball. We might not move it as much late, but we still need to move it.”
Center Rudy Gobert concurred.
“We played the right way for 42 minutes. Or 41 minutes. Teams raise their level, we’ve got to match that. I don’t know how many turnovers we had in a row — we’re gonna turn the ball over, but we’ve got to realize that when we’re up 16, we’ve got to raise our level and keep playing the same way,” he said. “The ball was moving the whole game. Until we do that, we’re gonna give teams chances to win. … It’s almost like it’s happening for a reason. Until we change that, until we change that, it’s gonna keep happening.”
Mitchell mostly focused on late defensive miscues, pointing out the number of open looks Golden State got down the stretch.
But he also took some responsibility for his own poor play in the clutch.
“I missed two easy layups. Growing pains. It sucks — straight up. But I’ll figure it out,” Mitchell said. “I haven’t been great all year in these moments. But this is what drives you, figuring stuff out like this. I will.”
Mike Conley, one of the Jazz’s better players in the loss that dropped them to 46-32 on the season, pointed out that it hasn’t always been the same strategies employed by opponents that have thrown Utah off, and it hasn’t always been making the same mistakes over and over.
What has been consistent, he asserted, is that the Jazz have not responded well to adversity in any of those situations.
“Each game is different, we’ve had different things happen, but I think collectively, there has to be a calm, a sense of, ‘These are the things we’re going to do and execute with four minutes to go,’ and key in on that and do it,” Conley said. “It’s not time to be free, time to be loose, time to relax, time to turn the ball over — we have to really think the game and almost slow it down mentally for all of us, and get all five guys collectively with that mindset.”
Or, as Snyder more succinctly put it: “I think there’s a component of it where we have to be tougher mentally in those situations, when something is hard, to play through it.”
Conley, like Mitchell, believes the Jazz still have the capacity to solve their problems, even with only four regular-season games remaining, correctly pointing out, “We are the team that’s building these leads,” and suggesting continuing to “work at the small, small details in the last four or five minutes of games” will go a long way.
Mitchell, meanwhile, repeated his assertion that it will happen.
“It hurts. But we’ll figure it out,” he said. “This is where, being a competitor, it just drives you, it fuels you at this point.”