(The Bulls) were loose and they were competing and the basket gets bigger that way. Those breaks can go either way. That doesn't account for all 34 (fourth-quarter) points, but I thought it was the key play. —Jazz coach Quin Snyder
CHICAGO — The beginning of the end for the Utah Jazz on Saturday night actually started with a great play by Rudy Gobert.
With the Jazz trailing by two, The Stifle Tower swatted a shot against fellow Frenchman Joffrey Lauvergne at the rim as Utah attempted to turn the tide in the fourth quarter Saturday. Unfortunately for the Jazz, the ball went right to Bulls guard Denzel Valentine in the corner.
Valentine quickly hit a 3-pointer, thanks to Gobert’s unintended assist, boosting the lead to five in a game the Bulls went on to win 95-86 at the United Center.
“Well, the biggest shot was an offensive rebound that Valentine hit,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of the play. “That’s kind of the way they were playing. They were loose and they were competing and the basket gets bigger that way. Those breaks can go either way. That doesn’t account for all 34 (fourth-quarter) points, but I thought it was the key play.”
Utah lost for the second consecutive time after beginning this four-game Midwestern trip with a convincing win in Detroit. The Jazz fell to 43-27 and hold on to the No. 4 spot in the West by 2.5 games over the Clippers (41-29), 2.5 games over OKC (40-29) and three games over Memphis (40-30).
“I think every loss matters, especially with how close the race is. We’ve been saying that all season,” Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said. “At the same time, you want to continue to play well going into the postseason, so we’re going to have to try to find it in Indianapolis (on Monday) and try to string a win together.”
The Jazz were livid about another late play — this one on the offensive end — that hurt their late rally attempt.
Hayward was driving and hoped to trim the Bulls’ 92-86 lead, but Jimmy Butler slapped the ball out of his hand and forced the Jazz forward into a turnover.
Hayward screamed at the referee because a foul wasn’t called after Butler clearly smacked both of his arms.
Utah didn’t score again.
“You trying to get me fined right now? I feel like I got fouled,” Hayward said when asked for his take on the game-clinching play. “My whole arm was grabbed. It is what it is. He didn’t call the foul obviously, so it wasn’t a foul, but I feel otherwise.”
The Bulls countered his otherwise feelings. Chicago, led by Butler’s 23 points and a career-high 22 from bench big Bobby Portis, thought it was a heads-up move by their star.
“It was a huge play that Jimmy made getting back,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He has great hands.”
“It started with Michael (Carter-Williams) making a play with the ball and made Hayward alter his layup,” Butler said. “I was able to get my hand in and get the ball. It was just great hustle on everyone’s part.”
It seemed like a great hustle in getting the ref to not call it a foul, too.
But two plays didn’t cost the Jazz this game. Their inability to answer the Dwyane Wade-less Bulls’ energetic effort and physicality along with not being able to score did.
The Jazz, playing without injured Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood, only shot 38.3 percent, couldn’t sustain momentum after taking an early 12-point lead and got outscored 34-22 in the fourth quarter.
It was a very nonchalant effort for a team in a playoff race.
“The young guys on the Bulls’ second unit came out with a lot of energy,” Gobert said. “We need to match that and play through that. Every loss hurts, especially this one. It’s kind of frustrating the way we lost it at the end. We have to react and keep being the team we have been.”
George Hill led the Jazz with 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Hayward only had 14 points on 5-of-16 shooting, which was his second rough outing in a row. Gobert finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots before fouling out late.
“The fourth quarter defensively we weren’t as good. They had a lot of energy,” Snyder said of the Bulls, who improved to 33-37. “Valentine made big shots, Portis was good and Michael Carter-Williams was good. All those guys I thought played very well. They played with a lot of heart.”
The Jazz need to do that Monday in Indy to salvage a 2-2 road trip and to keep a tight hold onto home-court advantage for the upcoming playoffs.