When the Utah Jazz walked off the court into the halftime locker-room down 17 points, they were ushered in with boos from their own crowd.
The home team.
By their own fans.
In the playoffs.
In the middle of the game.
It’s unheard of. It’s scandalous. The Jazz have one of the craziest atmospheres in the NBA and it only gets even more nuts during the postseason.
And yet, it’s easy to understand why they felt the way they did.
With their first chance to play in front of their home fans in the playoffs, Utah laid an absolute egg almost every moment of the 126-118 loss, showing about as much hustle as the fans in that crowd. Meanwhile, Dallas flew across Utah’s court like they owned the thing. On defense they swarmed the paint, largely limiting dump-off passes to Rudy Gobert, and rotating to chase the Jazz off the 3-point line. The latter of those things led to Utah attempting just nine triples in the first half (reminder: this team averaged 7.3 made threes per half this season let alone attempts).
The Mavericks came to play. The Jazz looked like they expected to walk onto the court and just win because why wouldn’t they? But Dallas didn’t play like a team missing its superstar do-everything guy. Or maybe they did. The Mavs did all the little things. They put in the effort. They made the adjustments. They did the things that winners do.
It sounds incredibly harsh and insensitive to say it, but the Jazz earned those boos from the crowd. Not because of a simple loss. No crowd loses their crap over being down at halftime in a game where the worst result is being down 1-2 in a first-round series. It’s the feeling that a Jazz team once beloved by the state has simply given up.
To be fair to the Jazz, though, they at least tried in the second half. A 40-point third quarter put them within six points of the Mavericks heading into the fourth. Donovan Mitchell excised some first-half woes to score 18 of his game-high 32 in the third quarter alone. Utah even closed the gap to a single point (103-102) with 6:42 left in the game. But like so many times before, the Jazz collapsed in the waning minutes of the fourth. The Mavericks outscored the Jazz 23-16 in the final six minutes and change after the game closed to within one point.
This is why the fans boo.
In the end, this game isn’t a backbreaker, no 1-2 series deficit has ever been. It’s just that it feels like one. And when you add up the context, the equation is much different than simply being down one game. The Dallas Mavericks aren’t just up 2-1 on the Utah Jazz in this series. They’re up 2-1 without Doncic and have won the last two games.
The Jazz may lose this series and not even face the Mavs’ star guard.
It didn’t matter that the box score had several of the hallmarks of a solid Jazz win. Mitchell scored 32, Bojan Bogdanovic had 24, Mike Conley had 21. Both Conley and Mitchell had six assists with only six combined turnovers between them. Utah shot 56.5 percent from the field and 93.9 percent from the free-throw line. None of that mattered because none of the other things were there. Things like 3-point shooting, defense and timely plays on both ends.
Whatever the result of this series, the Jazz are losing the faith Utah has in them. Winning this series might help. Maybe it won’t. But that’ll have to wait until at least Game 4.