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Utah Jazz lose momentum in second half and fall to Milwaukee Bucks

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Utah not only lost the game, but their starting point guard Ricky Rubio to an injury.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz started this game without their backup point guard Dante Exum, they then found themselves only one quarter in without their starting point guard as well when Ricky Rubio suffered a right hamstring injury. Despite being down to just Raul Neto, the Utah Jazz fought admirably against one of the best teams in the league on the road for 3 and a half quarters and finally ran out of gas losing 114-102.

Before Ricky Rubio went down with his injury, he was red hot from the field. He shot 4 of 5 to open the game with 9 points. It wasn’t until he tweaked his right hamstring on a layup that was devoid of contact. Rubio immediately knew something was wrong and waived for the Jazz to foul. Once the foul was made, he let out a loud “F***!” and went limping to the locker room. From Rubio’s reaction, you wonder if something is seriously wrong.

Utah didn’t let that injury stop them from making this a game. Quin Snyder added an interesting wrinkle that Ben Dowsett of the Athletic had mused about before the game.

By putting Rudy Gobert on Giannis, it allowed Utah to put Favors or Crowder onto Lopez aka Splash Mountain. Utah was able to keep their rim protector in the paint and it made Giannis work for his points. Giannis still finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 1 WWE move, but it took him 30 attempts to get there.

One unfortunate side effect of Utah’s attention on Giannis was Thon Maker being WIDE open beyond the perimeter. He proudly joined the other Jazz killers as he finished with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals.

Rudy Gobert played the defensive game of his life and he finished with 14 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. Playing against this Bucks team is difficult, it’s even more difficult when you’re missing two elite perimeter defenders in Rubio and Exum. Gobert put in work.

But Utah fought through it and had a really good first half. They led 62-58 going into halftime, but as the game went on they slowed down.

Donovan Mitchell got out to a fast start with 15 points in the first half alone off 5 of 11 shooting and 3 of 4 from three. At halftime, the Bucks made an adjustment. Mike Budenholzer put Giannis on Gobert which really made things difficult when the Jazz would run PnR with Mitchell. Instead of the Jazz getting the switch and having a laboring big man guard Mitchell, it was the Greek Freak staring Mitchell down. Not exactly the most favorable matchup. Donovan Mitchell ended up going 3 of 13 down the stretch as he battled against Giannis’ length.

Adding to the Donovan Mitchell’s struggles in the second half was the adjustment of him having to play point guard with Rubio and Exum out. Getting to prepare as the point guard is one thing, having to switch mid-game against one of the best teams in the league? That’s a nightmare. Donovan Mitchell did well, but struggled as is to be expected. He finished with 7 turnovers with 4 of them coming in the second half alone.

But Utah did get some stellar play from Raul Neto.

Neto played some great minutes in a pinch for Utah tonight. He went 4 of 8 for 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists and only two turnovers in 17 minutes. He was undersized while guarding Bledsoe and Brogdon, but he held his own the best he could out there.

Even though he did his best, however, Malcolm Brogdon still benefited from playing against someone much smaller than him. He was most likely really glad he didn’t have to match up against an equally sized Dante Exum. Brogdon—the only player in the league averaging a 50-40-90 and currently shooting 98.6% from the free throw line—finished the game with 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists.

Utah also got some surprising minutes from Royce O’Neale. He finished 2 of 2 from the field with 8 points and 4 rebounds. When he sticks to being a spot up shooter, good things happen.

Ultimately, this game came down to Utah not being able to hit open 3 point looks. They finished 6 of 20 from the field with Jae Crowder going 2 of 9 and Kyle Korver going 1 of 5. Joe Ingles was 0 of 2. Matt Harpring said on the call that Utah goes as Ricky goes and that isn’t true. They go as their outside shooting goes. If they can knock down open threes that are consistently going to be there for them, the game opens up for this Utah team and they’re hard to stop. It gives them additional space and they’re able to let their slashers and rim runners punish you. But if they’re not ... teams like the Bucks can sag off, pack the paint, and collect the rebounds to get off and running on the fast break.

This is the part where we say this isn’t a bad loss. Utah wasn’t favored to win this. FiveThirtyEight’s projection had Utah winning this game only 37 out of 100 times. That number probably drops considerably if it can account for the absence of both Exum and Rubio. Yet Utah fought back. Utah played their gameplan on defense to perfection, but the combination of losing Ricky Rubio in the 1st half and their shooting in the 2nd half did them in.

In the long term view, losing tonight isn’t the problem. Losing Ricky Rubio is.

No matter your feelings about Ricky Rubio and his long term fit with Utah, without him, Utah is the walking wounded at point guard. Neto filled in great tonight, but bigger point guards like Brogdon will lick their chops at him and there were times tonight where you saw him hitting against his ceiling. He can only punch above his weight for so long.

Who knows how Quin plays this. Does he try to keep Donovan at SG and pair him with Neto or Grayson Allen? Or does he put Donovan at PG alongside Korver and Ingles? If Rubio is out for extended time ... this stretch without both Exum and Rubio could quickly throw the calculus of a second half run before the All Star break off quite a bit. Utah will have to wait until tomorrow for the final word on Rubio’s injury as he will undergo an MRI tomorrow in Utah.

It could also crumble the Jazz’s Trade Deadline plans whether those were to stand pat or be aggressive. If Utah was thinking they would stand pat and make a run, Rubio’s availability might change how they feel about going with the status quo. If they were going to be aggressive, Utah now has two potential trade pieces (three if you count Thabo Sefolosha) that could fail a physical and could scare off potential suitors. If anything else, this is just another hurdle in a frustratingly difficult season already for the Utah Jazz.

The Utah Jazz will now return home to Salt Lake City and rest for a day. Rehab will most certainly begin in full for both Rubio and Exum and Quin Snyder will have 48 hours to figure out a solution to possibly being down two elite perimeter defenders. On Wednesday, the Utah Jazz will have a rematch against the Orlando Magic who they lost to in Mexico City. That game begins 7:00PM MT.