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Chicago Bulls 97 Utah Jazz 95 : Slow Start, Second Half Surge, Still a Loss

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Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

There's too much talk of who's clutch, and who's not clutch in my opinion. Gordon Hayward will get the label today, of course: not clutch. His shot was short, and that was the ball game. Or maybe Derrick Favors, because he had an open 15-footer (a shot he's hit a lot this year) that was just too long. Not clutch.

It's too bad we can't average the two distances of those shots and end up with a 3-point win for the Jazz.

Pau Gasol, of course, was clutch because he got the jump ball and hit a free throw. Or not clutch because he missed one.

We create stories of the high pressure situations because it makes the games fun.

But it's not the story I'm going to focus on today.

The story I saw began with 27 seconds left in the game, and it ended with 22 seconds left. Five measly seconds that, in my opinion, created the most definitive swing in the game.

Jimmy Butler stole the ball and raced in for a layup for a dunk. But Hayward and Burks would have none of it. Hayward was in the way, changed the shot, and Burks came up from behind and swatted it away.

The game was saved for the Jazz.

Except nobody else was there to get the ball: only Mike Dunleavy, who could toss in an easy, completely uncontested layup. That put the Bulls up 96-95, and they wouldn't even need that extra FT from Gasol.

* * *

I wrote today, in the Monday Blues, about the Jazz not putting themselves in the right position defensively. I showed pictures of Trey Burke standing under the rim, where he could do no good. I mentioned that I see all the Jazzmen do this a lot ... in the wrong spot, not moving, not anticipating what was going to happen, not even anticipating the likely outcomes. Not even anticipating what kind of movement away from the ball will help good things happen.

And there it was today: The game was on the line. A muffed pass or catch (depending on whether you think Trey made the mistake for the pass in the first place, or Kanter made the mistake by not paying attention closely enough to catch it). And then it's a footrace ... one wing vs. two wings, All three of them desperate to make the right play happen to win the game.

And nobody on the Jazz thought about what to do if Gordo and Alec were successful and stopped the shot. Nobody else ran their guts out to reach the basket. Nobody else had even approached mid court. Nobody else had even ran.

Why should they? They weren't near the ball. Why should they run?

Well, because if Hayward or Burks pulled off the miracle chasedown block, then somebody had to be there to pick it up. Or else it will just bounce to Mike Dunleavy, and he'll throw in an uncontested layup.

The best teams understand the little things that put themselves in position to win. It shows up in the box score as rebounds or blocked shots or opponents with crummy shooting numbers. But in reality, it's more than just rebounding ability. It's the recognition that the game is on the line, and you need a miracle, so you run your guts out to follow the two guys trying to pull off the chasedown block, because somebody else needs to be there and somebody else needs to run like the game's on the line.

But there was nobody there.

What could have been a game-saving defensive play goes down in history as an uncontested layup.

Game over.

***

The Jazz started slowly again ... I suppose being inspired by their win against the Thunder last week. So they followed a similar script. Sadly, sequels are rarely as good as the originals. Especially when it's the Bulls and not the Thunder. It was a good team, and the late surge simply wasn't enough.

I also look at the box score, and you see some good performances from the Jazz:

  • Favors, shooting 10-17, scoring 21 and adding 15 rebounds and a steal.
  • Enes Kanter, shooting 9-13, scoring 19 points to go with 8 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and a block
  • Trey Burke, shooting 8-15, 18 points, 10 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals.
  • Jingles and Booker combining to shoot 9-26, 29 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and a block
  • Hayward and Burks combining to shoot 5-22.

Well, maybe that last line isn't so awesome.

It made me realize that the Jazz have not played a single game in which everybody performed well. Not yet. Nothing like this, for example. Or even this game. There's always a couple of guys throwing up a dozen bricks or more.

And so there's a lot of room for improvement, still. Nothing shocking. Nothing to get angry about. But something to watch and hope our guys can put it together. OKC wants revenge Wednesday. And then the Clippers want to whine and flop their way to victory Saturday.

There's always more games to play, and progress to be made.