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Salt Lake City – Donovan Mitchell slammed his hands on the scorers’ table saying “Let’s go to the sun!” The chanting started through the Vivint Arena.
Any positive vibes created by the Utah Jazz over the past four days were completely erased Friday in their last home game of the regular season.
It happened again.
Utah led by 17 points as the game entered the fourth quarter. They lost 111-105.
If Friday’s game against the NBA’s leading Phoenix Suns is viewed as a playoff harmony — the team said — you might as well expect the same thing that has happened all season to follow the jazz in the post-season.
The Suns beat the Jazz 36-13 in the last 12 minutes to come back up again in a now predictable fashion. Jazz was 3 of 20 from the field in the fourth quarter, including 1 of 9 from deep; Sanus was 14 of 21 with nine assists.
It was the 16th time the Jazz had lost a game this season after leading in double digits and the sixth time the Jazz had lost in the fourth quarter; Three of those matches have come in the past two weeks against Western playoffs.
“Obviously we’ve done some really good things – some not quite as much – to put ourselves where we are,” said coach Coen Snyder. “And from that moment when we got to the time of crisis, we haven’t kept doing it.”
In the end, it was the same things that have been repeated over and over again this season: Jazz stopped moving the ball and then couldn’t stop once the attack stopped. Soon the 17-point lead was gone.
“I don’t think there’s some kind of hexa voodoo floating around,” Snyder said. “Maybe there’s a little bit of anxiety when these things start to happen.”
Rudi Gobert added, “I think we’re overthinking the fourth, prime time. When we’re 17 years old and they slip… and tie the game, it’s like…” Joubert faded and did not finish his thought.
Mitchell was zero to 6 in the fourth quarter, and Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovich were a combined 1 of 4 from the field. Everything before that became irrelevant as soon as the last bell sounded.
Yes, the Jazz took a hit with the best team in the league – until the Suns did what they had done all season: They raised their bar when it mattered most. Jazz did – can’t you? – He follows suit.
Phoenix didn’t need to win the match; The Suns broke the best league record in a long time. It was as if Phoenix added to Utah’s misery just for fun.
So what should be changed?
Mitchell thinks it’s very simple.
“I should have gotten a bullet at four,” Mitchell said. “I haven’t been very good at fourth all year. My team needs me to be that guy. I have to rise to the occasion.”
This is somewhat contradictory to the “move the ball” and “keep playing the same” solutions shared by Snyder and Gobert – which, frankly, may be part of the problem – but Mitchell is probably right a bit.
Since the All-Star break, Mitchell has shot 30.2% from the field on 96 shooting attempts and 20% on 40 shot attempts from deep in the fourth quarter. If he manages to return to the version of the supernova he displayed in his last two playoff games, Utah’s closing woes will likely leave.
“Shooting the big hits is my business and I haven’t done that yet,” Mitchell said. “…what you all might consider difficult is the same actors I’ve been playing all summer. So I work on capturing those shots in those moments, so now I have to go out and hit them. There is no other formula for that.”
Reminiscing about his past successes, he made a final plea to jazz fans: “I know it sucks. Fans, hold on. I promise, we’ll be fine.”