SALT LAKE CITY — Sometimes a game really does come down to one play.
Things were far from great for the Utah Jazz on Monday. They had lost another big lead, couldn't make a shot for long stretches and were down by double digits in the fourth quarter. Yet, despite all that, they were leading late in the fourth quarter.
Mike Conley had seemingly saved Utah from its second straight embarrassing loss, drilling a 3 with 5.4 seconds left to give the Jazz a one-point lead. It didn't last long.
In a play that encapsulated the odd season series against the Wolves, the Jazz lost track of D'Angelo Russell on the ensuing inbound play and he got a free layup for the game-winning layup. Yes, in the closing seconds a team with Rudy Gobert gave up a wide open layup that lost the game.
That miscue lifted the Wolves to a 105-104 win in Minneapolis as they finished off a season sweep of the Jazz. It was the first time the Wolves have won back to back games all season — both came against the apparent best team in the league. Basketball can be a strange game.
So what happened on that game-deciding play?
"There was a miscommunication," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "Mike switched out and Rudy went back to Towns."
It was a creative set by the Wolves. At the free-throw line, Karl-Anthony Towns set a screen for Anthony Edwards, and as Towns rolled out of the screen, Russell set a screen for him. The double screen caused confusion, but the Jazz initially looked like they had it covered — if nothing else by dumb luck
Conley saw that Gobert was bodied up on Russell and stuck with Towns, but then Gobert surged out to defend Towns behind the 3-point line. That left no one on Russell in the paint. The pass came to him and it was game over.
"I mean, the goal was for me was at first to stay with Towns, but in that situation we had to (switch)," said Gobert, who had 18 points in the loss. "I called the black (a switch) so we had to. Mike did exactly what he was supposed to do and I didn't. I mean it's one of those plays when you watch the replay, you just feel dumb. It doesn't happen a lot, but 100% on me for sure."
Said Conley: "I got out on KAT, tried to push him out to half court and I looked behind me, and Russ was laying it up, so I didn't really see what happened behind me, but I guess Rudy got mixed up there along the way and we gave that one up."
The miscommunication apparently didn't end there. The defensive miscue was so bad that it took hardly any time for Minnesota to score, and that meant the Jazz still had 4.2 seconds left to salvage the game.
The call was simple: Clear out and let Conley go one on one for the win. But on the final play, Gobert ended up trying to set a screen and Conley ended up losing the ball.
"Rudy came up and tried to make a play and just nowhere to go," said Conley, who had 26 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. "So, It was a tough two-play stretch for us and we've got to be better."
If there's a silver lining in the loss to the Timberwolves it's that it wasn't as bad as Saturday's loss. On the scoreboard, the two games were pretty much carbon copies of each other: The Jazz jumped out to a big first quarter lead, got dominated in the middle quarters, mounted a comeback, and then lost at the end.
But how that happened Monday was a bit better. Saturday's loss was due to turnovers and missed rebounds; Monday's was mostly due to missed shots.
Did the Jazz play perfectly? Far from it. They passed up too many open looks again and rushed some offensive sets, but if just one of their offensive stalwarts would have hit his season average, Utah would have walked away victorious.
Just look at the 3-point stats from Monday:
- Jordan Clarkson was 1 of 10.
- Joe Ingles was 3 of 13 — and missed his last nine attempts.
- Bojan Bogdanovic was 1 of 11.
- Conley was 3 of 9.
- Utah was 16 for 57 from distance for 28% as a team.
"We're a team that relies on our guys making open shots, shooting open shots and creating for each other," Conley said. "We've had opportunities the last two games and we've had uncharacteristic-type performances from a lot of people. A lot of us probably will watch the film, sit back and (think) about every shot we've taken and wish we could have them back because they're good looks, and we should take them every single time."
Those shots eventually did get Utah back in the game, though. Georges Niang hit four 3s in the fourth quarter to help lead the comeback and it was a 3-point bomb by Conley that gave the Jazz a very short-lived lead at the end. Then the inexplicable miscue happened, leading to another inexplicable loss.
"It's hard not to dwell on one play, obviously, when it's that impactful," Snyder said of the final blown defensive play. "But I think for us to put ourselves in those situations, this isn't a moral victory but (this is the) mentality that we have to have in order to be successful, and obviously we have to we have to close."