SALT LAKE CITY — Coming into Friday’s 124-116 loss to the Heat, the Jazz had played just 20 “clutch” minutes (defined as the last 5 minutes of a game with the score within five). And most of those had come in the first couple weeks of the season.
During Utah’s 22-2 stretch that began on Jan. 8, the Jazz have played just 8 such minutes — far away the lowest total of any team. So it was a bit of a new experience when things got tight against the Heat late on Friday.
“We are not always going to be up 10 in the final 2 minutes,” Donovan Mitchell said. “I think tonight was a good test for us.”
A test, that on Friday at least, they failed.
After cutting the lead to just a single point with 2:17 left, the Jazz only scored 1 more point the rest of the way.
Mitchell missed a free throw and then a layup and then threw a no-look pass out of bounds. Mike Conley was called for a charge driving into the lane. Bojan Bogdanovic missed an open 3-pointer, and Jordan Clarkson took what looked to be a desperate triple that got nowhere close.
“I think we definitely saw a lot of things we can fix and adjust,” Mitchell said about the closing minutes. “That’s what we are all about, trying to find ways to get better and games like this definitely help.”
Conley shed some light on what some of those things were. And one in particular: spacing. Utah’s spacing is what makes everything work. If the players are crowded together, lanes are going to be filled and shots are more likely to be contested. It’s hard to beat a defense with passes when teammates are on top of each other.
“We had guys driving into crowded lanes and they (the Heat) were making great plays on the ball and tipping balls out and taking charges and things like that and we just have to be better spaced, stronger with the ball in those situations,” Conley said.
Some of it was Utah being improperly spaced, but some of it was poor decision making on the Jazz’s part.
Mitchell has taken his game to another level this season due to knowing what plays to make and when to make them. One example: His acrobatic layups have turned into passes to the corner. But with just over 2 minutes remaining, he forced a tough layup attempt over the outstretched arms of Bam Adebayo when Conley was open in the corner. Yes, it would have been a difficult pass, but it’s one that we’ve seen Mitchell make before.
Nearly an identical miscue was made by Conley moments later when he drove into the lane and collapsed the defense around him. But instead of kicking it out to an open teammate on the perimeter (Royce O’Neale was literally hopping with his hands raised), Conley barreled into a defender and was called for a charge. Conley actually made the shot after colliding with the Heat defense and Jazz coach Quin Snyder even thought about challenging the call due to the fact that a 3-point play would have tied the game. That, though, would have been a wasted challenge. It was that obvious of a charge.
“I thought that tonight we ran up on a team that just really out executed us down the stretch,” Conley said. “They made plays when it mattered most. We got kind of loose with the ball in key possessions. A couple of turnovers here and there, but outside of that I think we just needed to be more mindful of the details and those in those final few minutes and try to execute a little bit better.”
So chalk it up to a learning experience. The Jazz have figured out how to win big, now can they figure out how to win close?
“These are just learning opportunities, but you want to win,” Mitchell said. “I think there’s a lot of things you can take from this. It’s tough to see that when you lose a tight game like this that there’s good things that come from this as far as development.”