We just wanted to let him play downhill. Rodney was at the top of the key. Donovan downhill with a head of steam and Rodney peeling out to the 3-point line. Those are our two best offensive players. —Jazz coach Quin Snyder, on Utah's final play vs. Miami
It typically takes 48 minutes to decide an outcome of an NBA game.
Surely, no one play or minute can dictate the entire outcome, but costly mistakes and miscues in crunch time are pivotal — especially on the road.
The final 60 seconds of Utah’s 103-102 loss to Miami was certainly one of those teachable moments for the road team as the Jazz looked out of sync.
Utah seemed to be in control for much of the game, until things changed in that final minute.
“That’s a tough one,” said Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “Even just looking down on the other end after the buzzer went out, Utah played a very good basketball games. In many ways they deserved to win this one.”
So what happened?
After a pair of made free throws by Miami’s Goran Dragic, Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell confidently blew past Josh Richardson for a scooping layup off the dribble drive to give the Jazz a 102-99 edge with 47 seconds remaining.
Heat center Kelly Olynyk then drew a shooting foul on Mitchell with 37.7 seconds left after pinning him down in the low post off a pick-and-roll switch with Dragic. He made both shots from the line, and Miami pulled within one, 102-101.
Richardson kept Mitchell from receiving the inbounds pass on the next possession, which forced Rodney Hood to dribble up the floor to avoid a backcourt violation.
But instead of putting the ball in Mitchell’s hands once he reached half court, Hood waived off the best scorer to go one-on-one with Tyler Johnson and bricked an ill-advised pull-up 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining.
The Heat regained possession and called a timeout, which set up an inbounds play for Richardson, who lost Mitchell on a screen from Olynyk, then blew around Derrick Favors, using his foot speed, for a go-ahead driving layup with 5.1 seconds remaining to take a 103-102 edge.
Going into the final play, Mitchell posted 27 points and Hood contributed 17 points on the night, so the logical decision was putting the ball in one of their hands.
Mitchell’s first mistake was catching the ball so deep in the backcourt that he had to zoom up the floor, bypassing a screen and pop to the 3-point line for Hood. As the Heat double-teamed the rookie, instead of kicking it out to a wide open Hood, he forced up a wild, floating jumper with little chance of it going in as the Jazz dropped their third in a row.
“We just wanted to let him play downhill,” Snyder explained. “Rodney was at the top of the key. Donovan downhill with a head of steam and Rodney peeling out to the 3-point line. Those are our two best offensive players.”
Mitchell knew he didn’t make the right decision, but as one of the league’s top clutch performers in the fourth quarter, it’s hard to bet on anyone other than yourself — especially after Hood’s clanked 3-pointer on the previous possession.
Mitchell holds the league's fifth-best scoring average in the fourth quarter — averaging 6.5 of his team-best 18.5 points in the last 12 minutes. He admitted that it wasn’t the look he wanted.
“Not at all,” Mitchell said after the loss. “They double-teamed me, which means Hood was open. I should have made the right read instead of shooting that.”
So, the question now is can the Jazz learn from those mistakes? Mitchell is a student of the game, adding new tricks to his arsenal with each game, and experience is the best teacher.
The final minute was a heartbreaker with several offensive mistakes being made, but Utah also has to improve on defense. Being lost on screens and allowing layups in the waning seconds is certainly unacceptable. Injuries continue to play a part without All-NBA center Rudy Gobert in the lineup, but the Jazz have to find a way to dig deep within to remain respectable in a tough Western Conference.
Social media accounts of key players such as Mitchell, Gobert, Raul Neto and Jonas Jerebko have showed guys enjoying a couple of extra days in Miami, then the team will fly to the nation’s capital for a Wednesday showdown against the Washington Wizards at 5 p.m. MST.
Utah (16-24) is ranked 10th in the Western Conference standings.
“We got better defensively as the game went on,” Snyder said of the Heat loss. “At least until late when they were able to get in the lane on us. We will watch the film and try to find a few things that we can do better. Obviously, we were in position to win the game, so we did a few things right. It just doesn’t feel like that right now.”