The road trip of heartbreak continued on for the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, as they again let a late lead vanish on the way to another overtime loss, this time 118-111 to the New York Knicks.
That makes three extra periods for Utah in the first two stops of a four-game swing that so far has brought two fairly bitter pills for the young Jazz to swallow.
“Definitely emotional losses. Games we feel like we have a chance and for whatever reason, just lose it down the stretch,” said Gordon Hayward, who scored three of his 27 from the free throw line to force the extra session. “Once they started scoring points, we just kind of cracked and couldn’t get stops.”
Utah allowed the Knicks to erase a double-digit fourth-quarter lead, squandering guard Rodney Hood’s 29-point effort along the way. They also drew first blood in overtime before New York took over with a remarkable 19 points in under four minutes.
The trouble started early in the fourth quarter for the Jazz. Seconds into the final frame, Utah went up 10, but then gave up a 14-3 run spanning the next six and a half minutes. For most of that stretch, New York played one-big lineups that put All-Star Carmelo Anthony at the four, and Utah had a hard time adjusting its defense. Anthony finished with a game-high 30 points, but also with nine assists as he reacted to the help defense.
“They started playing through Melo in the post,” Hayward added. “I think we were shifted over maybe a little too much and kind of stopped trusting each other a little bit. But we just, for whatever reason, our defensive system didn’t hold through.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder saw the same thing, commenting repeatedly that his team’s defense wasn’t “connected” enough. He also noted the physical play during that stretch — and throughout the game — as a key factor.
“We talked about what the game would become in the second half,” Snyder said. “They were going to raise the physicality, which they did. The game got very, very physical. I thought that kind of game was better for them and we didn’t respond well. We have to be tougher.”
Rudy Gobert, who had to contend with that physicality throughout the night, was less polite in describing the tone of the contest. “I mean, when you can grab, when you can choke people, I think it’s easier. But we need to be tougher mentally: everybody, me included.”
Gobert had to battle with the Knicks’ Robin Lopez, a disciplined guy who knows the scouting report and is physically well-equipped to battle The Stifle Tower. “RoLo” has a low base and gives a lot of contact at the waist level. He got every rebound he wanted and got where he wanted to go, and the result was a 22-point, 14-rebound night, likely his best night of the season.
And when Gobert wasn’t wrestling with Lopez under the basket, he had to chase Latvian rookie Kristaps Porzingis out to the perimeter, where many of his 16 points came. But Gobert said the diverse challenges of the Knicks’ Swiss-army frontcourt shouldn’t bother him.
“I can guard Porzingis, I can guard Robin Lopez,” Gobert countered. “We just gotta stick together and stay with the team concept. I think we just gotta be more connected.”
“We’ve got to help each other,” Snyder said. “I don’t think you can look at any specific matchup, whether it’s Rudy being moved around by Lopez, or Melo attacking Trey Lyles or Book or whomever. That’s why it’s a team game.”
Connected play on the defensive end definitely would have helped in this one, where the Jazz gave up 62 second-half points and another 19 — nineteen! — in overtime.
Even getting to an extra five minutes took some doing. Utah was down four with a minute left after Arron Afflalo — who was whisper quiet when these teams met last month — hit a back-breaking three. Then Hood, whose 29 came with 6 boards and 5 assists, hit a runner and a three. Those buckets, along with a Trey Burke triple, set up Hayward’s three-FT possession. But there were too few stops, and too many of the ones they did get were spoiled by offensive rebounds snared by the home team. The Knicks had nine second-chance points in the 4th quarter and overtime alone, including six by Lopez.
“I think Robin killed us on the offensive glass,” Hood said. “It’s not an individual, but a team effort with that.”
Snyder agreed, adding that the guards and wings need to dig down more on defensive rebounds as well. More than anything, the coach was discouraged that a defensive 37-point half was followed by an 81-point outburst after the break.
“It was two different games, is what it really was.”
Odds and Ends
Three overtime periods in two games is tough on everybody, but I was anxious to check on Gobert after the game. He has tallied 43 and 42 minutes in the last two, all while playing on a sore knee.
His response: “I’ll be OK physically,” Gobert promised. “I’m just mentally a little bit [ticked], but we gotta stay together and be ready next game, because we gotta win the next game.”
That closing stretch might have offered the clearest picture of just what Snyder is contending against when he makes decisions about clutch lineups without the injured Derrick Favors.
New York was pressuring Hayward and Hood heavily, and the ball wound up with Trevor Booker for almost consecutive misses: an open midrange jumper and a driving shot over a smaller guy.
Snyder replaced Booker with Trey Lyles, presumably to add some scoring punch, and New York’s Derrick Williams promptly got an offensive rebounded and converted an and-1.
Point is, it’s a bit of a Sophie’s Choice right now: one guy gives energy and gets to loose balls but is a bit of a liability on offense, and the other guy can hit shot and take pressure off Utah’s ballhandlers but occasionally gets out-worked.
Snyder cited Booker’s good defense on those Melo-at-four lineups, but ultimately relied mostly on Lyles at the end of regulation and through overtime.
“I love both of those guys and their competitiveness,” Snyder said of his power forwards. “You know, Book’s hit big shots for us before. Trey is obviously playing real well right now… Everybody’s gotta do their job and hopefully we can collectively get a little more connected on defense next time.”
It was another awesome game-within-a-game between Hayward and Melo. In last season’s MSG showdown, the two took over the fourth quarter for their respective teams: Melo had 17 of his 46 in the fourth, while Gordon had 13 of his 33 before deferring to Trey Burke on the game-winning shot.
More of the in version 2016 of the ongoing duel. Tonight the statistical outputs were closer: 27 for Hayward and 30 for his Knicks counterpart, but it was the physical nature of the battle that made it a must-see struggle between one of the league’s most accomplished scorers and a young star coming at him.
“He’s a physical guy and I’m not going to back down,” Hayward said. “It’s something where you love going against the best.”