The Utah Jazz lost a heartbreaker to the Golden State Warriors on Friday night as former Jazzman Jonas Jerebko tipped in the game-winning shot.
Heading into the 2018-19 season, the Utah Jazz preached that their biggest strength would be continuity. How ironic then that that player that would ultimately sink them in a wild nationally-televised bout against the Golden State Warriors would be the one and only rotation player they didn’t bring back from a season ago – Jonas Jerebko.
The Jazz held a one-point lead against the Golden State Warriors with seconds remaining. They played excellent defense on Kevin Durant, who had been on fire all night, and his shot misfired. Normally, one would think that this meant game over. Unfortunately, the former Jazzman out of Sweden had other thoughts.
Jerebko managed to tip in Durant’s miss with 0.3 seconds remaining on the clock, sealing the victory for the reigning champions. The game-winning bucket made up two of Jerebko’s 10 points which he logged on a highly efficient 4-of-5 shooting outing that included two made threes. In all, Jonas played extremely well against his former team, and while the tip-in sealed the game it was far from his only contribution.
Losing at the hands of a former Jazzman was painful, but it was far from the only reason this loss stung. The Jazz had plenty of chances throughout the night and simply wavered down the stretch of what was otherwise a phenomenal game. The first half was as seesaw of an affair as you could imagine with both teams taking the lead from one another back and forth. The first half saw 26 of the game’s 33 lead changes take place.
However, Utah used an exceptional second quarter which saw them put up a mind-blowing 47 points to finish with 81 in the first half and take a 12-point lead into the break. But we all knew the Warriors weren’t about to stand pat.
They came barreling back in typical Golden State fashion to take the lead midway through the fourth quarter. After a few exchanged leads back and forth, the Warriors ultimately came out on top in the final second of the contest. Golden State never led by more than five points whereas the Jazz blew a 16-point lead, which makes the loss hurt even more. No matter how you look at it, this was a game that Utah could have, and arguably should have won.
As expected, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry were absolutely exceptional throughout the night as the former notched 38 points on 14-of-25 (56 percent) shooting from the field and the latter posted 31 points on 13-of-24 (54.2 percent) shooting from the field including five made threes in patented clutch Curry fashion.
The Jazz simply had no answer for Durant’s mid-range game throughout the contest, and while Jerebko gets to claim the role as hero for tipping in KD’s miss to win the game, in truth it was Durant that gave his Warriors team the chance to win. Utah threw multiple defenders at Durant including Royce O’Neale, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder and others, but none caused him to falter whatsoever.
The Jazz did a respectable job against both Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, who were held to 14 and 12 points, respectively. But ultimately it wasn’t enough as Curry and Durant combined for their most points combined ever as teammates.
If someone had told me before the game started that the Jazz would push the Warriors to the brink and only lose by a point, I probably would have been pretty satisfied. After all, this is the defending champs we’re talking about, and even just proving that we may be in the same neighborhood as them is an encouraging sign. However, the way the game went down is what really made it a painful loss.
However, the fact that Utah competed so well, kept it so close and quite frankly would have won had a few things gone their way is pretty reassuring that this is indeed going to be a daunting squad this year. And there were several things to be optimistic about in the contest.
First and foremost is Joe Ingles, who continues to be lights out. He went for a team-high 27 points on incredible shooting splits of 10-of-15 (66.7 percent) from the field and 7-of-11 (63.6 percent) from deep. Once again, he appeared to be Utah’s strongest offensive weapon and was a force on defense. It’s somewhat ironic to consider that Ingles was once viewed as the weak link in Utah’s starting lineup, yet so far in 2018-19, he’s been among their most formidable assets.
Jae Crowder and particularly Dante Exum were solid off the bench, but unfortunately Royce O’Neale and especially Alec Burks struggled. After looking strong throughout preseason and the regular season opener, AB appeared to revert back to his former self as his questionable and out-of-control shots led to a 1-of-7 shooting night.
Georges Niang was also a nice little pleasant surprise as he put up eight points while converting on two of his five 3-point attempts, good for 40 percent. A few defensive mistakes on his end proved costly, though, especially considering that Utah fell by a mere point. Rudy Gobert was solid for the most part and Ricky Rubio was much improved from the first game despite some ill-advised decisions, while Derrick Favors had a forgettable outing.
With all that said, you’ll probably notice one player in particular that I’ve failed to mention up to this point – rising star Donovan Mitchell. Unfortunately, as much as it pains me to say it and as much as Jazz Nation may hate to hear this, a large portion of the blame for this game rests on the young guard’s shoulders.
After starting out the game ice cold, Mitchell went on an offensive tear to surge to 19 points with just over six minutes left in the third quarter. Unfortunately, those would be his final points of the game, as Donovan would go on to miss his next nine shots from the field to finish a forgettable 7-of-23 (30.4 percent) from the field and just 4-of-12 (33.3 percent) from the perimeter.
And as bad as they are, the stats alone don’t do justice to how poorly Mitchell finished out the game. He started relying far too heavily on iso ball down the stretch and the lack of ball movement led to poor decisions and ugly shots from the second-year player. Most egregious of all was Utah’s final full possession in which Mitchell, despite his shot being off, decided to take matters into his own hands and pulled up for an ugly 3-pointer with six seconds left that missed badly.
Mitchell would have been better served moving the ball or attacking the rim rather than settling for deep and/or contested shots late in the game. Though it likely wasn’t his intention, his play down the stretch was nothing short of selfish and it cost Utah the game. It pains me to say it as there were lots of things that could have been executed better, but I’m largely pinning this loss on the shoulders of Donovan.
Fortunately, I’m sure he realizes that as well. And if he taught us one thing last year, it’s that he has the ability to bounce back. I’m fully confident that Donovan Mitchell will learn from this experience, improve his game and better trust his teammates in the future. Hero ball isn’t the way of the Utah Jazz, and his ill-advised attempts at heroics were the last thing Utah needed. When all was said and done, it cost them the chance to knock off the defending champs and move to 2-0 on the young season.
In summary, this was a good look for the Jazz in that they went toe-to-toe with the best team in the history of this league. They proved they have an offense that can score and a defense that’s potent enough to fluster the best of the best. On the flip side, they showed that they still have a lot to work on in terms of discipline, closing out games and getting their rising second-year player to make the right decisions.
If Utah works these kinks out, they showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the West this year. But they also have some very real issues to solve. Let’s hope that Quin Snyder and the rest of the gang make the proper adjustments and can get back to their winning ways when they take the court anew on Monday night.