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Jazz on wrong side of 'basketball gods' in loss to Spurs

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell blew by Derrick White into the paint, sidestepped Jacob Poeltl and shot a scooping layup off the glass.

That shot with 4.4 seconds left in regulation would have given the Utah Jazz a late lead and could have extended Utah's winning streak to nine straight games. The shot, though, rolled off the rim and Utah lost 128-126 to San Antonio Friday at Vivint Arena.

Mitchell had been on a tear in the closing minutes, fighting off nausea to score 7 points in the final 2:37 as he led the Jazz back in front. And after what Lonnie Walker IV just did on the other end — hitting an off-balance, near-impossible push shot over the massive reach of Rudy Gobert — Mitchell hoped the basketball gods would even things out.

But they had other plans.

"It's the basketball gods. When you don't defend all game, you don't deserve for that shot to go in," said Mitchell, who had 27 points, five rebounds and four assists.

You can also point to Mitchell's late misses — he had a shot at the buzzer, but it was far from clean, and he admitted he was simply hoping to get fouled as he fired it up — as the reason the Jazz lost on Friday. But the damage was done earlier — much earlier.

San Antonio had the worst-ranked 3-point attack in the league entering the game and proceeded to make five 3-pointers in the first quarter. They were mostly practice shots and the Jazz didn't close out and didn't contest them. The Spurs scored 36 points in that quarter — yet, Utah still managed a lead.

The quarter planted the roots of San Antonio's second half. The Spurs had seen the ball go in and the basket just got bigger from there.

"We had some opportunities to really extend the lead," said Jazz coach Quin Snyder, whose team led by 17 points late in the first half. "We lost focus and were content to trade (buckets) with them. And when you're missing and they're making, you end up with a 41-23 third quarter."

Utah was outscored by 18 points in the third quarter and offered little resistance on the defensive end. Keldon Johnson, White and Walker all took turns getting inside and hitting shots in the paint or the midrange. The Spurs had seven players finish in double figures led by Johnson's 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting.

"They were getting anything they wanted," Gobert said. "They were getting everywhere they wanted to go."

Gobert finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, but he was far from his usual dominant self. The Jazz went to a small-ball lineup for a time in the fourth quarter to try and slow down the Spurs, but that didn't work either. Nothing the Jazz tried managed to stop the Spurs. By the time the Jazz locked in on defense, it was like San Antonio's confidence had risen to a point that it didn't matter.

"The last few minutes, they probably had like one easy shot; the other shots were contested — usually low percentage shots," Gobert said. "Tonight they were feeling good because we allowed them to feel good."

On Wednesday, Mitchell was reluctant to say the Jazz had turned a corner. It was obvious the team was playing better — an eight-game winning streak was proof enough of that — but he cautioned that the Jazz had a long way to go and they hadn't yet put together a "great" game.

Friday showed that Mitchell was right to be cautious.

A lot of things that led to last-second losses to Memphis and New Orleans popped up again against the Spurs. The transition defense wasn't there, the perimeter defense was porous and the Jazz went through long stretches of lackadaisical play.

Utah allowed a middling team to stay in a game and then lost in the end. It wasn't a buzzer beater this time, but it hurt just the same.

"Sometimes it's good to get humbled a little bit, and to understand what we need to do in order to be the team that we need to be," Gobert said.

And get a reminder of how to get the basketball gods on your side.

"That's kind of how this game works — they got rewarded for a great effort and we didn't," Mitchell said. "We didn't really play up to our standards on many different levels."


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