It was only fitting that on the night Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were celebrating their first career All-Star appearances, the Utah Jazz should face the Denver Nuggets, the generous organization willing to trade two stars for Trey Lyles, Erick Green, Tyler Lydon and cash considerations.
Unfortunately, Denver seemed to prove it didn’t miss their best two draft picks of a decade by winning at home 106-100.
On the night, there was more Gobert (and Jordan Clarkson) than Mitchell in terms of star impact, and the lack of that dominant duo certainly factored into a third-quarter collapse and the eventual defeat.
Rational Reaction #1: Utah completely collapsed in the third/early fourth
The Jazz took at 23-21 lead in the dying moments of the first quarter on a Jordan Clarkson 3-pointer and built that advantage to as much as 11 (41-30 in the second) and kept the lead at two or three possessions through most of the third.
Utah’s good times lasted until the 4:13 mark in the third with the score sitting at 70-61. From there, Denver scored 19 unanswered points to flip its nine-point deficit to a 10-point lead at 80-70. Utah didn’t score for five-and-a-half minutes and didn’t record a field goal for a span of seven-and-a-half minutes.
All said and done, Denver piled on a 27-1 run across the third and fourth quarters.
Rational Reaction #2: Mitchell hurt the Jazz with poor shooting
Sure, bad nights happen, even to the best, the All-Stars and even All-NBA guys. But Mitchell’s night was among the low-lights of his career. He didn’t record a point until 4:05 left on the night on a nine-foot floater. Mitchell finished his night at the office 1 for 12 (0 for 6 from three) and was held to just four points, just the eighth time he’s been held to such a low total, but also the second time this month (four points vs Charlotte on Jan. 10).
His eight assists were the only saving grace of his night. But combine that with four turnovers, the woefull shooting, and being a team-worst -9 (tied with Ed Davis), makes it safe to say, that despite being the team-saving star countless times over, this one time his force was a little more negative.
Overreaction #1: The Jazz straight-up stole Jordan Clarkson from Cleveland
The incredible value of guys like Clarkson became plainly evident late in the fourth when he single-handedly tried to will the Jazz to victory. He led all scorers with 37 points (his second time reaching that total in his career and five short of his career-best 42) with 24 of that coming in the fourth quarter alone.
Without Clarkson, this was never a game after that abysmal third/fourth quarter run by the Jazz as a whole. His efforts directly led to cutting a 17-point Nuggets lead to just three, 101-98. Unfortunately, Utah couldn’t play enough defense to secure the second stunning rally of the game.
Overreaction #2: Without poor teams to beat up on, Utah is getting exposed
Between Dec. 11 and Jan. 22, Utah had a record of 18-2, boasting a point differential of +11.9 in those 20 games. Only six of those outings were against teams currently in a playoff spot and only one of those matchups pitted Utah against a team currently seeded higher than four. In the last four games, Utah is 1-3 having faced three western conference playoff teams (the fourth being the ninth-place Spurs).
This may be more correlation than causation and having a lower win rate against better teams is expected. But the Jazz just haven’t looked like the Jazz in their last four games. Even in the win over Dallas, they needed a great come-from-behind effort to down a team below them in the standings.
Under-reaction: Utah wasted a chance to get a leg up in the standings
Denver and Utah came into this game with identical records in what was effectively a fight for third-place in the West. The Jazz, at the moment, hold a tie-breaker over the second-place Clippers and, thus, would have been a mere half-game out of second place.
Instead of claiming that small mid-season prize, Utah took a drop in the standings and now must win three straight games against the Nuggets if they want the season tie-breaker against their division rival.
Losses like these can be written off in the moment, but when playoff seeding comes down to one or two games and tie-breakers, they suddenly become more important.