The Jazz lost on Wednesday night in Portland after winning their previous two games. This was the sixth time that the Jazz had the opportunity to win three games in a row, and failed to pick up the third win. But the Jazz have a very favorable schedule coming up. Utah will play their next six games against teams who are currently missing the playoffs. After that, their next six games will be at home. If there was ever an opportunity for the Jazz to get a good winning streak going, it would be now. Unfortunately for them, Sacramento came into the game more with more focus and energy. The momentum building will have to wait until next time.
Sacramento came into Thursday night’s game on a two-game losing streak. Desperate to stay in the race, they capitalized on ice-cold shooting from the Jazz in the first half. The beleaguered bottom of the Western Conference is tightly packed. Almost every game against a Western Conference opponent holds a lot of weight. Sacramento was only two games behind Utah in the race for the eighth playoff spot leading up to Thursday’s game.
The Jazz would be without Derrick Favors for a twelfth straight game. His back spasms are becoming a bigger concern for Jazz fans with each game he misses. Fans are growing restless for more information on their star forward’s status. He appears to be making progress, and should return soon. That’s been the word for a while now. With Rudy Gobert back in the lineup, and Trey Lyles seeing nice mid-season development, the team has continued to stay in the mix during Favors’ absence. Still, he’s a vital piece to the puzzle if the Jazz are going to stay relevant as other teams begin to solidify their identities. The Jazz also could have used a powerful post presence against DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins went for 36 points and 17 rebounds.
With a fresh slate, and a set of winnable games ahead, the Jazz started the first quarter against the Kings about as poorly as they possibly could. Not an ideal start. Sacramento came out with high energy on offense, and exploited a Jazz team that didn’t look ready for the challenge. Willie Cauley-Stein got started quickly with a couple of easy dunks against his college teammate Trey Lyles. The Jazz hung around for the first few minutes, but things got bleak as the quarter progressed. They went the final eight minutes of the first quarter without hitting a field goal. Their three-point shooting percentage was at 8%, only hitting on 1/13 from beyond the arc. The crowd ironically cheered towards the end of the first quarter when Gordon Hayward hit a three after the play had already been blown dead. The moment summed up the Jazz’ fortunes. The score after one quarter was 26-12 in favor of the Kings.
The Jazz corrected their scoring woes in the second quarter. They were able to score 33 in the second after only scoring 12 in the first. The problem is that Sacramento scored 30 themselves. Utah was able start picking it up on offense by going back to the paint. They totaled 26 points in the paint in the first half, most of which came in the second quarter. They cut down on the three pointers as well. They only shot three times from beyond the arc in the second. Trey Lyles and Raul Neto generated 10 points a piece in the first half for the Jazz. Lyles was very aggressive and had a couple of nice two-handed dunks. Trevor Booker was physical on DeMarcus Cousins, but Boogie still managed to score 20 first half points. The crowd got back into the game after some questionable calls against the Jazz. Utah responded to the heightened energy in the arena and finished the half strong. The halftime score was 56-45 for the Kings.
The Jazz played well for stretches during the third quarter. At one point they cut the lead down to seven. But as the quarter went on the Kings were able to find an answer for Utah’s push. Both teams ended up with 26 in the third quarter. The score after three was 82-71 for the Kings. There was a scary moment where DeMarcus Cousins swiped Trevor Booker across the face on a dunk attempt after the whistle had already been blown. The incident was clearly an accident, and Cousins went over to check on Booker as he was doubled over. The shot to the face staggered Booker, who had to be helped to the locker room. He didn’t return to the game. Booker was exhibiting concussion like symptoms. The Jazz kept the energy high throughout the quarter, and finished it off with a Hayward floater as time expired. Trey Burke was a burst of energy off the bench as well, keeping the Jazz alive with 10 points through three. He would finish with 17.
The Jazz fought hard throughout the fourth quarter to give themselves a chance. They cut the lead to five twice with under two minutes to play. But DeMarcus Cousins was too strong for the Jazz to gain real momentum in those moments. He overpowered Jazz defenders on every possession that he touched the ball down the stretch. With 1:35 left Omri Casspi hit a three to put the Kings up eight. Cold air started drafting into the arena as fans began filing out. But Utah wasn’t done. Gordon Hayward hit a circus and-one to put the Jazz back to within three. They got a stop with 8.5 seconds left, giving themselves a chance to tie it. Joe Ingles buried a three with 4.1 to go, and the Jazz were a stop away from overtime after trailing the entire game. But Rudy Gay hit a jumper with .6 seconds left to put Sacramento back on top. Trey Lyles missed a half court shot as time expired, sealing the victory for the Kings, 103-101.
This loss has to hurt for the Jazz. They never gave up, and had a chance right at the end. They cut down an 18-point lead and came within one stop of overcoming their atrocious first quarter. If any lesson can be learned from this game it’s that you have to come ready to play. Sacramento inched closer in the standings, and the Jazz lost a chance to create space and gain momentum. Utah outplayed Sacramento nearly the entire game, and came up just short. This isn’t the first time the Jazz have had to overcome a disappointing loss on their home floor. They’ve been pretty good at avoiding the hangover game. They’ll have an excellent chance to bounce back on Saturday night against the Lakers. While it might be frustrating that a momentum game turned into a bounce back game, the Jazz are fortunate to be where they are considering all they’ve dealt with this season. If the playoffs are the goal, there is still plenty of time and lots of winnable games.