For most of this game, the Utah Jazz looked like the team from last year that would dominate most nights. Even though Chris Paul and Devin Booker had pretty spectacular nights they were making defensive plays. The offense was also humming at certain points till at one point they had a 17-point lead.
At that point, most Jazz fans felt the cold dread that has come over this Jazz team so many times this season in the 4th quarter. And just like so many times before, the Jazz gave up the lead to the Phoenix Suns who won, 111-105.
In some ways, it’s remarkable the Jazz were even close in this one when you look at the numbers from the Suns. Chris Paul had 16 points and 16 assists on 7/11 shooting. Devin Booker had 33 points on 13/36 shooting from the field and 2/5 from three. Mikal Bridges, who was playing at an all-defense level, was 7/10 from the field with like 4 straight makes to end the game. And yet with all that, the Jazz were up 17 at one point and looking to cruise to a nice win against the top team in the league.
How did they do it? If you go by plus minus, Danuel House was +17, Juancho Hernangomez was +19 and Jordan Clarkson was +17. Those players combined with a mix of Mike Conley, Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Hassan Whiteside, had big nights. It’s truly incredible how good House and Hernangomez have been. They’ve absolutely changed things for Utah. The bench for the Jazz is a weapon and could be the thing that gives them a playoff series this year.
The thing that will have to improve is Utah’s starters. Tonight, Donovan Mitchell took the responsibility for the loss.
Donovan Mitchell: I just gotta be better. I’ll take the blame. I just gotta hit a shot in the fourth. I haven’t been good in the fourth all year.— Tony Jones (@Tjonesonthenba) April 9, 2022
Whatever your feelings on Mitchell are, if the Jazz want to go deep into the playoffs they’ll need Mitchell to hit shots in the clutch. That hasn’t happened very much this year and it’s a big part of this game. Now, it’s not the only thing. Other players could hit shots as well, (looking at you Mike Conley - 4/13 from the field, and Bojan Bogdanovic - 3/11 from three), but Donovan Mitchell is the star of this team, he’s the one they need to lean on. When it’s not falling, it’s very hard for the Jazz to score, especially against teams of the Suns caliber. And we could also mention the defense. It wasn’t good enough in certain aspects all game, and was definitely terrible in the 4th. If we’re going to blame Donovan Mitchell for the faults on offense, at some point doesn’t Gobert deserve the blame for the defense not being good enough? That’s his domain.
I have thought about this a lot this year and it’s become clear this year that, fair or unfair, the offensive star is always going to take the blame. Bad defensive rotations like the Jazz had late won’t be noticed, but a missed shot with 3 second left on the shot clock will be. If Donovan makes the shots he creates at the end of the shot clock, he’s a hero. If he misses them, he’s the one that will be blamed. It’s how it goes for stars in the NBA.
Obviously, Mitchell understands this. His comments after the game show it. We could nitpick the shot percentage, but to win in this league, you need someone to make shots at the end of the game. If Mitchell hit his shots in the 4th tonight, the Jazz likely win, if Mitchell hits shots in the playoffs, they likely go far. If he doesn’t, then they won’t. It’s pretty simple.
The good news? Mitchell believes they’ll do it.
Donovan Mitchell: "Fans, stay with us. I promise you we'll be alright."— Ryan Miller (@millerjryan) April 9, 2022
If there’s one person that can turn this around, it’s Donovan Mitchell. He believes that they can win these games in the playoffs. In a few days we’ll find out if he’s right.