Signs of ascension would have surrounded the Jazz.
Except this time, they may just have been true. With a win, Utah would have won 3 out of 4 — and 4 of 6 — on the road for the first time this season.
Instead of winning triumphantly, the Jazz collapsed down the stretch and lost to the Hawks, 103-95, on Friday.
GUARDS: Gotta love how Jamaal Tinsley's passing propensity enables him to be effective even when he's not a scoring threat himself. His nine assists in 27 minutes Friday means he has dished 33 in the past 109, respectively. That's 14.5 per 48 minutes. Unfortunately, he only dished one assist in the fourth quarter (with one turnover — he had three more on the night), not only dropping his per-48 minute average over the aforementioned stretch from 15.1, but also failing to be a floor general when the final shots were being fired.
Randy Foye was the most significant individual story of the evening. His 6-of-7 marksman-like display will surely leapfrog him ahead of his current 25th spot in NBA 3-point shooting (40.7 percent entering Friday). Foye is now 11 of 18 from distance in his past three games, and he has had a better 3-point percentage just one time in six previous seasons. However, like Tinsley, he did not perform down the stretch. In all, he did not take or make a shot in the game's final six minutes.
Meanwhile, Jazz guard Devin Harris put Atlanta over the top. Averaging just 7.3 points and 2.3 assists per game, he kept up with Foye, scoring 24 points on 7-of-8 shooting (4 of 5 from distance) with four assists. He made both field-goal attempts and scored eight points in the game's final eight minutes, perhaps making a statement to the organization that let him go in a trade this past summer. GRADE: B-.
FORWARDS: Paul Millsap (20 points on 8-of-16 shooting, 13 rebounds, five assists) continued his hot play as of late. The seventh-year pro has now scored 15-plus points — above his season average of 14.7 entering Friday — in 4 of the past 5 contests, and his two steals means that he has as many or more in 5 of the past 6. He didn't nab any steals in four consecutive games prior to the streak.
But, Millsap missed his last four field-goal attempts when the team he captains sorely needed them.
Josh Smith (15 points on 7-of-14 shooting, 10 rebounds) couldn't quite keep up with Millsap overall, but he did score four crucial points by converting both of his final two field goals late.
It was a similar but closer story at the small forward position. The combination of DeMarre Carroll (seven points on 3-of-6 shooting, 19 minutes) and backup Gordon Hayward (12 points on 4-of-9 shooting, 29 minutes) slightly outdid another former Jazzman in Kyle Korver (three points on 1-of-4 shooting) and Ivan Johnson (14 points on 6-of-10 shooting, seven rebounds), who doubled his season points-per-game average. Hayward's 4-of-4 display from the charity stripe marked the second time in five games that he made all of his free throws with four-plus attempts.
But, the third-year player missed his last two field-goal attempts when his team sorely needed them. GRADE: C+.
CENTERS: Al Jefferson (23 points on 10-of-19 shooting, 10 rebounds, three assists) certainly was solid, but not more than that because Atlanta center Al Horford's 12 points came on just 6-of-9 shooting. Even backup post player Zaza Pachulia, who came into the game averaging just six points per game, scored 12 on 5-of-7 shooting and may have seen more than 19-plus minutes if he didn't pick up five fouls. GRADE: C-.
BENCH: The Jazz bench was dominated by the Atlanta reserves — more than perhaps any Utah game this season, according to the lopsided 42-16 score. Hayward led the way, and Earl Watson (five assists in 21 minutes) was solid. But Derrick Favors didn't help his case with three fouls in 14-plus minutes as he was joined by Enes Kanter and Alec Burks (each with seven minutes) in going scoreless. The Utah reserves did play less than they usually do this season. GRADE: D+.
OVERALL: An 'F' for failing to finish — and here's looking at some veterans in Tinsley, Millsap and Foye. A win over a quality Atlanta club could have proved to be one of those random January road games that combusts a fire of momentum. Instead, Utah's late collapse — it held an eight-point lead going into the fourth quarter — proved to be a perfect midseason measuring stick: The Jazz are still merely mediocre because they are not effective in closing out winnable road games against good opponents. This team entered the fourth quarter shooting 53 percent from the floor, finished at just 47 percent as it scored just 19 points in the period. Realistically, the overall grade gets dropped another half grade since the Jazz failed to perform when they could have turned their season in the right direction. GRADE: C-.
Rhett Wilkinson is a senior in communications and politics at Utah State University and the co-founder of Aggie BluePrint, USU's student magazine. A Deseret News editorial intern, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wilklogan