Up 101-100 over the Sacramento Kings and 11.2 seconds on the clock, win number five was almost in the hands of the Utah Jazz. Just one more defensive possession. The Jazz did well on that defensive stand, drawing a missed corner three our of Nemanja Bjelica. But Harrison Barnes pulled another quick possession out of thin air with an offensive rebound and put-back.
One missed Donovan Mitchell game-winner later and the Jazz saw their three-game win streak fade into the ashes at the hands of a team that before Friday had yet to win a game all season.
Rational Reaction #1: Utah’s offense has a long way to go to fulfilling its potential
With three guys capable of being the top scorer on a playoff-caliber team, the Jazz should have performed better on offense than they did on Friday and much better than they have all season.
Just based on points per game, the Jazz were 27th prior to playing the Kings and that ranking isn’t exactly going to to up after Friday. In offensive rating, Utah is only marginally better, ranking 23rd.
Nowhere tonight were the offensive inefficiencies more apparent and more hurtful than midway through the fourth quarter.
For a near five minute stretch from a Rudy Gobert layup with 9:44 left to a Donovan Mitchell floater with 4:47 remaining, Utah didn’t make a single bucket. The Kings took that chance to go on a 14-5 run that flipped an 85-83 game in the Jazz’s favor to a 97-90 game for Sacramento.
Luckily, there’s a long season ahead for the Jazz to iron this deficiency out. And if they do, the NBA will have much to fear.
Rational Reaction #2: Rudy Gobert’s defense is huge in clutch situations.
Gobert scored just five points in the fourth quarter. Most box score watchers will look at that and think Gobert had a middling or perhaps above average fourth quarter given his per game average is 11 during his career. But those who watched the actual game know exactly how instrumental Gobert was in the comeback bid.
From the 5:03 mark in the fourth until just 58 seconds were left on the scoreboard, Utah went on a 9-0 run. Mitchell and Conley were key in the nine points scored but the goose egg forced onto the Kings was largely Gobert’s doing, and he did it almost completely by himself on some plays.
It didn’t end up making the difference tonight as there were too many mistakes early in the game, but being able to almost close off the paint in the final five minutes of the game makes winning games much easier.
Overreaction #1: Utah is consistently playing down to its competition
Yes, the Kings are better than their now 1-5 record. Yes, the Phoenix Suns are 3-2 with a win over the Clippers and a narrow loss to the Denver Nuggets, but this Jazz team is supposed to be better. Excuses are the ammo of the mediocre. Great teams don’t make excuses and they don’t win by just one point against teams like the Suns or lose to a winless Kings team.
Utah has had multiple good outings like its first matchup with the Kings, the win over the Clippers along with a solid game against an underrated Oklahoma City Thunder side. But too often this season the Jazz are getting into punching matches with teams below their weight class.
This season the Jazz are billing themselves not as a playoff team or an above average Western Conference team. Fans, media and Jazz PR are spinning this squad as a legitimate championship contender. Living up to that bill means avoiding getting caught in trap games.
Overreaction #2: Gobert heating up will be the death of opposing teams
Yes, two of these reactions are being dedicated to Rudy Gobert. Deal with it.
In the first few games, Gobert was fairly quiet. He didn’t disappear as his screen assists and defensive presence still aided the Jazz on both ends of the court. But in the box score Gobert was whispering rather than roaring. In the last three games, that has changed.
In the contests against the Suns, Clippers and Kings on Friday, Gobert averaged 14.3 points, 13.7 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals while shooting 70.6 percent from the field and a respectable 70.4 from the free throw line. These are the kinds of numbers that, paired with the trio of Mitchell, Conley and Bogdanovic, will terrorize opposing teams.
Under-Reaction: Turnovers aren’t helping the Jazz offense right now
Utah entered Friday’s game 27th in the NBA in turnover percentage, giving away on average 18.6 possessions each night out. The math on that comes out to 18.5 percent of trips down the court for Utah on offense end with the other team not having to defend a shot.
Against the Kings, Utah committed 17 in the first three quarters, hamstringing a potentially explosive offense for 36 minutes. Funny thing is, in the fourth where the Jazz had zero giveaways, things went a little better. The Kings still had a good run, but that was more on the defense. Not handing away possessions was one of the key reasons Utah managed to get itself back into the game.