SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz had to sweat out their 128-124 victory over the lottery-bound Washington Wizards on Friday night at Vivint Arena, but in one respect, they were just fine with that.
Yes, the Jazz would have preferred to coast in the fourth quarter after leading by as many as 15 points in the third, but their two-point edge heading into the final frame and the fact that they ultimately trailed by two with three minutes to go put them in a situation where they were forced to execute properly down the stretch, and they did so.
That hadn’t happened over the past few weeks before Friday, as their eight wins in the nine games before then had come by an average of 21.8 points (the smallest margin was 15), and the one close contest they had in that stretch was a 117-114 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
“I think to be in a close game, to be down with three minutes left and for us to win the game, there’s something good about that, no question about it,” head coach Quin Snyder said. “We haven’t been in close games, so I think it was good for us to feel that.”
A number of players felt similarly, particularly as it relates to the upcoming playoffs, which the Jazz officially qualified for on Thursday night.
“Especially when you come from playing teams and beating them by as much as we have been beating them, to come right into (a close game), it’s tough, but that’s what good teams do, and in order to be a good team, we’ve got to be able to execute in those situations,” Donovan Mitchell said.
Added Kyle Korver: “I think it’s good at this time of the season for us to have a game where we’re down with a couple minutes left and we’ve got to figure out how to get good shots and make good decisions.”
On the flip side of executing well down the stretch in a close game, Snyder and company did express some concern about how the score got to be close in the first place. In addition to giving up the lead in the third quarter, Utah also held a 15-point edge in the second before the Wizards went on an 11-0 run in a span of less than two minutes.
Snyder noted that has happened a number of times this season, and as such, he felt as though Friday’s episode wasn’t so much about losing an edge after blowing out so many teams lately as it was a general matter of needing to keep concentration throughout an entire game.1 comment on this story
“We weren’t complacent when we got up (15), so I think for us, it’s more about being able to maintain our focus and our urgency in those situations,” he said. “It’s been something that this group — it’s happened. It’s happened enough times for us to recognize that it’s something that we’ve got to be aware of and deal with and do better, because you can’t work that hard to get a lead and then give it back.”
Mitchell made the same observation.
“I think it really pushed our limits, pushed our connectivity, which hasn’t gone anywhere,” he said, “but we’ve got to make sure if we have a chance to put a team away that we do that, that we don’t just mess around.”