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Breaking down the Utah Jazz crunch time struggles

Why are the Jazz failing to win close games?

Milwaukee Bucks v Utah Jazz Photo by Jeff Swinger/NBAE via Getty Images

After last night’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at home, the Utah Jazz are now 15-19 in “clutch” games, ranking 22nd in the NBA.

So what’s going on? Is this is a serious issue, or is it just bad luck?

Let’s start with a disclaimer. Clutch stats are messy. When dealing with them, especially over just one season, you have to understand that a tremendous amount of luck is involved. One made shot, or one missed free throw can completely change the outcome of a game. For example, remember this?

This jump ball happened because the officials called a goaltend, then reviewed the play and determined it was an incorrect call, resulting in a jump ball. For Memphis to win this game, they needed that call to be made, then overturned, then they required Jackson to win the jump ball, and they needed to make a three-pointer. It was an improbable series of events. This is an example of how crazy the ends of games can be. Sometimes, unlikely things happen, which puts an L on the record.

How about this one?

A closely-guarded 28-foot three-pointer on the move by a 34% three-point shooter? The odds of making that shot are low, but he made it, and that’s another L for the Jazz.

Clutch stats are messy.

This disclaimer does not mean that I think we should throw clutch stats out the window. Yes, they are messy and heavily luck-based, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable and useful. As with all stats, the larger your sample size, the better picture you get. Dealing with just one season of clutch stats is a pretty small sample size, but we’ll do our best with it.

Donovan Mitchell

Everybody knows who’s taking the shot for Utah when the game is on the line. It’s Donovan Mitchell, the star scorer. The problem is; Mitchell has been struggling in these situations. This year Mitchell has atrocious shooting splits of 37.5% FG, 22.2% 3P, and 53.3% FT in clutch time. Last year wasn’t much better (37% FG, 25% 3P, 76.2% FT). In fact, he’s never had a season in which he has shot over 42% from the field or over 33% from three in the clutch.

This is a problem.

Many readers are probably thinking something about how difficult his scoring situations are in the clutch. You’re right. Especially on potential game-winning shots, Mitchell’s attempts are often tough shots. Some blame for that has to fall on Quin Snyder, but maybe not as much as you think.

Utah Jazz Clutch True Shooting per NBA.com

The Jazz offense in the clutch has been above average over multiple seasons, and most of the important offensive players have reflected that in their stats. Of course, you’ll see that there are outlier seasons for most players, which is expected. As I said, clutch stats are messy. Mike Conley’s first season in Utah was full of struggles, including in the clutch, but he’s been elite since then. He is shooting 50% from the field and 54.2% from three in the clutch this year.

Utah Jazz v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

I find it hard to blame Quin Snyder for Donovan’s struggles in the clutch when Snyder’s other players aren’t seeing the same trend. I think it’s safe to say that Donovan Mitchell is just not a great clutch scorer at this point in his career. And that hurts the team in these situations. That said, Mitchell has proven time and time again that he can improve himself and fix weaknesses. This is a weakness, but he can overcome it.

Defense

Utah Jazz Clutch Defense per NBA.com

The Utah Jazz defensive struggles over the last couple of years have been talked about at length, but one thing that hasn’t been brought up much is how it’s affecting their clutch results. The deterioration of Utah’s defense seems to be a bigger culprit for the clutch struggles than the poor shooting of Donovan Mitchell or the rest of the team.

If the Jazz can’t figure out how to defend in the big moments during the regular season, it’s hard to feel confident in their ability to do so during the playoffs.


Overall, there are issues. While the sample size is small, it is enough to see that the Utah Jazz struggle to defend in big moments, and Donovan Mitchell struggles to score in the clutch. If these issues aren’t resolved, they’ll rear their ugly heads in the playoffs yet again.