SALT LAKE CITY — The first three times the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder played each other this season, the games were high-scoring with a playoff atmosphere in the air and the Thunder came out on top all three times, the last two each being just one-point decisions.
On Monday night at Vivint Arena, the building felt like it does in the postseason early in the contest, but this time it was a low-scoring affair as neither team reached the 100-point mark.
It was the same ultimate result, however, as the Thunder came away with the 98-89 win to sweep the four-game season series after the Jazz won the teams’ first-round playoff series last year.
The loss marked Utah’s third in its last four games as it dropped to eighth in the Western Conference with 16 outings remaining in the regular season. The Jazz trailed by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter before pulling as close as six only to come up short.
“I thought we hung in there and competed,” Utah head coach Quin Snyder said. “Sometimes in a game you break through, and we were close, but that didn’t happen.”
The primary culprit for the Jazz, especially in a first half in which they scored just 37 points and trailed by 13 at intermission, was missed 3-point shots. Utah clanked its first seven attempts of the game and was just 5-of-24 from distance at halftime.
The 24 attempts accounted for more than half of the 42 total shots the Jazz attempted in the opening two quarters. For the night, Utah finished 13-of-43 from behind the 3-point line and attempted 88 field goals total.
Those numbers came just one game after the Jazz tried a franchise record 48 3-pointers in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. In that game, Utah had 82 field goal attempts total.
Both games were marked by the Jazz’s opponent pressuring them in pick-and-roll, and too often instead of moving the ball or themselves to get in better scoring position, Utah was forced to take a 3-point shot.
“When people are really aggressive in pick-and-roll and then protect the rim, sometimes those are the shots that they’re giving you,” Snyder said. “There’s been games recently where we’ve had a lot of attempts and made more. You always want to have a balance where guys, if they’re closing out on you hard, if those are open looks, sometimes you want to go to the rim. Frankly I thought we did that better as the game went on.”
Kyle Korver, who went 0-of-3 from beyond the arc Monday, echoed that thought.
“We were all kind of floating high instead of getting down to the corners,” he said. “We weren’t creating the space that we need to operate, and they’ve got a lot of good athletes with a lot of length. You’ve got to spread them out, and I didn’t think our pace and our spacing were very good.”
Despite the shooting woes, the Jazz still had chances late to climb back into the game, especially on a night when they held Paul George to just 14 points, just less than half his season average (28.4), and Russell Westbrook to 23, almost exactly his average (23.1).3 comments on this story
But backup point guard Dennis Schroder starred, scoring 24 points, 18 of which came in the second half.
“We followed the game plan. We got the ball out of Paul’s hands, but unfortunately another guy got hot,” said Utah guard Donovan Mitchell, who finished with a game-high 25 points. “It is what it is. We played solid defense.”
Up next for the Jazz (37-29) is a Wednesday night game on the road against the Phoenix Suns.
“We’ve just got to come ready to play against Phoenix,” Mitchell said.