After all the discussion just a few weeks ago of how Donovan Mitchell barely passes the ball to Rudy Gobert, Saturday’s Game 4 between the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks couldn’t have ended any other way.
A perfectly placed lob from the combo guard to the big man, who fielded the pass cleanly and rammed the ball through the hoop for what would be the final points of a series-saving 100-99 victory at Vivint Arena.
“I think it’s funny, man. … It feels good,” Mitchell said with a grin, when asked how sweet it was for that particular connection to win the game. “It feels good, because you hear [the chatter]. … We trust each other.”
If Saturday’s outcome didn’t completely dispel a few ongoing narratives surrounding the Jazz, it at least quieted the noise for a minute.
Utah is incapable of playing perimeter defense.
The Jazz’s series of blown leads prove they aren’t clutch.
The All-Star Mitchell always falls apart in the fourth quarter.
“F--- the talk,” Gobert said in his walk-off interview on national TV.
The talk will continue, but those talking points each took a hit — and even if only for a day, well, that’s the difference between the series being tied 2-2 and the Jazz getting swept at home and heading back to American Airlines Center in Dallas down 3-1 and facing elimination.
After being a sieve often throughout the first three postseason matchups with the Mavs, Utah’s defense tightened up considerably Saturday afternoon, thanks in large part to Bojan Bogdanovic’s dogged shadowing of returning superstar Luka Doncic, and his annoying, frustrating full-court pick-ups of noted Jazz-killer Jalen Brunson.
“He set the tone. He set the tone for us in the first quarter when he started pressuring Brunson. He set the tone,” said Gobert. “And everyone looks at Bogey and is like, ‘Bogey is doing it, why am I not doing it?’ And then everyone started doing it. It’s contagious. Sometimes that’s all it takes to spark something.”
Bogdanovic said that once he heard of Doncic’s return to action, he figured coach Quin Snyder would automatically assign Royce O’Neale to defend him, but the coach gave him the matchup instead. Snyder also had him spend extended time harassing Brunson up the court.
“I wanted to guard their best players,” said Bogdanovic. “… I tried to pressure them full-court and bother them.”
He did a bit more than that.
“When you got a guy like him making that commitment that early in the game — he didn’t tell us, he just kind of went out there and did it — you don’t want to let that person down,” said Mitchell. “That intensity really sparked the whole game — the crowd felt it, we felt it. … We fed off of it. It was continuous, it was nonstop.”
Utah’s defense held Dallas to 13-for-41 shooting (including 5-for-24 from 3-point range) in the first 24 minutes. And after a third-quarter lull, it regained its form, limiting the Mavs to 6 for 17 in the fourth quarter — including the final miss.
With Doncic racking up 30 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists in his return after missing the first three games of the series with a left calf strain, the Jazz were determined not to let him beat them. So they trapped him at halfcourt, forced a pass, then saw Gobert rotate over to challenge Spencer Dinwiddie’s hurried heave at the final buzzer.
“Make somebody else shoot. [Doncic] hits tough shots,” Mitchell said of the strategy. “Dinwiddie’s hit three of those same shots in the regular season, so when he shot it, I was kind of a little nervous, ‘cause I’ve seen him hit those. But at the end of the day, shooting over Rudy Gobert is tough.”
As a result of that final miss, the Jazz were able to avoid the ignominy of having yet another loss after surrendering a double-digit lead on their ledger.
Despite missing their first six shots of the game, Utah’s stellar ball movement and much-improved defense built up a 16-point lead with 1:51 remaining in the first half.
But it was all gone with 3:15 left in the third quarter.
Dallas drilled 14 of 18 shots (8 of 10 beyond the arc) in the third, as the Jazz were outscored 39-24 in that stretch.
Then, they regained their form, and the Mavericks managed just 18 points in the final quarter.
“They’re going to make a run,” said Snyder. “So when they made a run, the way we responded, it was not a blitzkrieg-type response, it was a response over time. Which requires more mental toughness — you can’t just make a spurt and get it back, you have to grind it out.”
Even though Utah was not itself making a ton of shots down the stretch (they went just 6 for 18 in the fourth), they still found a way to win. Jordan Clarkson deserves a ton of credit there, too, making a pair of 3-pointers and converting all three free throws after being fouled on another 3 try, to score nine of his team-high 25 points in the fourth.
“This is the team we want to be, this is who we are. Every night, every minute, whoever is on the court, play with intensity,” said Gobert. “I’m not worried about the shots and the offense — that’s gonna take care of itself. But the intensity and communication is something that we can always control. That’s gonna make things come together.”
And Mitchell was a huge component of that.
After carrying the scoring load early by racking up 17 first-half points, he went scoreless from the 2:40 mark of the second quarter to the 7:24 mark of the fourth.
And though he has acknowledged his own late-game struggles this season, he still made two of the game’s biggest plays when they mattered the most.
After Doncic appeared to win the game with a dagger 3 that put Dallas up 99-95 with 39.6 seconds to play, Mitchell answered. He drove down the court, missed an extended layup try, but went up high for the offensive rebound, then converted the putback and earned a foul against Doncic, actually making it (the Jazz as a team were a woeful 26 of 42 from the line for the game).
He acknowledged the initial play call was to shoot a 3, and conceded that’s normally what he would have done, but felt in this case he had a pathway to the hoop, and was comfortable with trying to play the free-throw-and-extend game.
Then he followed with one of the highlights of all Jazz highlights.
After Mavs center Dwight Powell missed a pair of free throws with Dallas up by one and 19.8 seconds to play, the Jazz didn’t call timeout, went downcourt, and Mitchell navigated a pick from Gobert, then lofted a perfectly placed pass to the rim-running center, who hammered it home with 11 seconds to go.
“He read that great, and he threw a great pass,” said Snyder.
“He made the right play and threw the lob,” added Gobert. “… I thought he made the right plays tonight.”
Mitchell scored just six points after halftime, but finished the game with seven assists and six rebounds.
“Donovan didn’t shoot it as well as I know he wants to, but that didn’t deter him in any way from the way he played,” said Snyder.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Jazz became just the fifth team in the last 10 postseasons to win after trailing by four-plus points in the final 40 seconds. Teams were 4-701 in that span entering this game.
And so it was that, in a game where Utah was set up for its biggest heartbreak yet, instead, when the final horn sounded, the fans populating Vivint Arena crowd — the same fans who were booing their team off the court one game prior — were as thunderous and loud as they’ve been in years, savoring their team’s salvation.
“When you play that way,” Gobert concluded, “you deserve to win.”