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SALT LAKE CITY—Donovan Mitchell slammed both hands hard against the scorers table as a « Let’s go Suns! » singing began through Vivint Arena.
Any good vibes the Utah Jazz had created over the last four days were completely erased Friday in their final home game of the regular season.
It happened again.
Utah had a 17-point lead as the game entered the fourth quarter; they lost 111-105.
If Friday’s game against the NBA-leading Phoenix Suns was viewed as a tune up for the playoffs — as the team said it was — then you might as well expect the same thing that’s happened all season to follow the Jazz into the postseason.
The Suns outscored the Jazz 36-13 in the final 12 minutes to storm back in what is now all-too-predictable fashion. The Jazz were 3 of 20 from the field in the fourth quarter, including 1of 9 from deep; the Suns were 14 of 21 with nine assists.
It was the 16th time this season the Jazz have lost a game after leading by double digits and the sixth time it has happened in the fourth quarter; three of those games came in the last two weeks against Western Conference playoff teams.
« Obviously, we did some really good things — not some, like a lot — to put ourselves in a position we’re in, » coach Quin Snyder said. « And from that point as we got into crunch time, we didn’t continue to do those. »
In the end, it was the same stuff that has been repeated over and over this season: The Jazz stopped moving the ball and then couldn’t get stops once the offense went stagnant. Soon, a 17-point lead was gone.
« I don’t think there’s some sort of like voodoo hex that’s floating around, » Snyder said. « Maybe there’s a little anxiety as those things start to happen. »
Rudy Gobert added: « I think we do overthink in the fourth, in crunch time. When we are up 17 and they creep up … and tie the game, it feels like … . » Gobert faded out and never finished his thought.
Mitchell was 0 for 6 in the fourth quarter, and Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic were a combined 1 of 4 from the field. Everything before that became irrelevant once the final buzzer sounded.
Yes, the Jazz went blow for blow with the best team in the league — until the Suns did what they’ve done all season: raised their level when it mattered most. The Jazz didn’t — couldn’t? — follow follow.
Phoenix didn’t need to win the game; the Suns locked up the best record in the league long ago. It was like Phoenix added to Utah’s misery just for fun.
So what needs to change?
Mitchell thinks it’s pretty simple.
« I gotta hit a shot in the fourth, » Mitchell said. « I haven’t been good in the fourth all year. My team needs me to be that guy. I gotta rise to the occasion. »
That’s somewhat contradictory to « ball movement » and « keep playing the same way » solutions that Snyder and Gobert shared — which, honestly, might be part of the problem — but Mitchell’s probably a little bit right.
Since the All-Star break, Mitchell is shooting 30.2% from the field on 96 shot attempts and 20% on 40 shot attempts from deep in the fourth quarter. If he can return to the supernova version he’s displayed in the last two playoffs, Utah’s closing issues likely will leave.
« Hitting tough shots is my job and I haven’t done it, » Mitchell said. « … What you all may consider tough is the same reps I’ve been repping all summer. So I work to take those shots in those moments, so now I just gotta go out and hit them. There’s no other formula to it . »
And with the memory of his past successes, he made a final plea to Jazz fans: « I know it sucks. Fans, hang with us. I promise you, we’ll be all right. »