Late Execution Costs Jazz in 88 – 99 Hornets Loss

January 12th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

Donovan Mitchell’s (45) 35 points weren’t enough to overcome his four late turnovers in tonight’s 88 to 99 road loss in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Story of the Game

Jazz fans, and much of the rest of the NBA world, are falling in love with rookie Donovan Mitchell. In tonight’s 88 to 99  loss to the Charlotte Hornets, Mitchell put on a display illustrating why – but he also showed the 21-year-old has a lot of learning and growth still in store.

For much of this game, Mitchell carried Utah offensively on his broad shoulders. Through three quarters Mitchell was dynamic and delightful, showing off an offensive game stunningly complete for any NBA player, much less a rookie with offensive skills routinely questioned when he entered the draft. His 31 points with an entire quarter left seduced the mind to think another 40-point night might be on the horizon. He’d been unstoppable, making four of seven threes, nailing all nine free throws, and making his routine appearance on the night’s national highlight reel:

With 5:58 left in the fourth quarter the game was tied at 85 and the Hornets were in the penalty, giving Utah a golden chance at back-to-back road wins for the first time this season. Unfortunately, as has happened on other recent occasions, under the pressure of crunch time – and against defensive adjustments with Mitchell squarely in their bulls eye – the rookie’s inexperience running a team were brought into the open.

As Eric Spoelstra did a few nights ago, Charlotte started doubling Mitchell hard off of picks, using taller players to cut off passing lanes for the six-three guard. Mitchell turned the ball over four times, which killed the Jazz down the stretch. On top of that, perhaps feeling the pressure of his mistakes and fatigued by a game in which he played 37 minutes and got little help offensively, he missed four of his five shots as well.

The Hornets1 closed the game on a 14 to six run and won going away.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Donovan Mitchell (35 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals)

Despite the rough end to the contest, Mitchell once again showed super-elite scoring potential. His 35 points on only 20 shots make his fourth thirty-point game this season and his 18th twenty point outing. He created those points showing every skill needed by an elite scoring guard in today’s NBA: making five of 11 threes, getting to the free throw line 11 times and missing only once, finding ways to finish over contesting defenders on his drives, and throwing in a dose or two of all-world athleticism. Add in five rebounds and two steals and it equals a game that would mark a highlight of most rookie seasons. Mitchell will certainly focus on his zero assists and five turnovers against a team determined not to let him create shots for his teammates. For a player learning to play the point as a rookie in the NBA, these experiences are inevitable and valuable. It shouldn’t dampen any of the enthusiasm about this young star.

Secondary Star: Royce O’Neale (11 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist)

The 24-year-old rookie continues to prove he’s not only an NBA roster-caliber player but a rotation guy, notching his first double-double of his career. This production came in a mere 19 minutes of hard play that saw O’Neale make a three and hit all four of his free throws. He even closed the first quarter scoring Utah’s last seven points of the period, pulling the Jazz even at 25, which was important for a team notorious for poor first quarters.

Secret Star: Ekpe Udoh (1 point, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks)

After his best game of the season and maybe his NBA career, Udoh reclaims the position he owned early this season as the team’s secret star. With Derrick Favors back in the lineup, Udoh played only 19 minutes and missed all three of his shots, but he brought his always intense defense and helped his team outscore the Hornets by eight while he was on the floor.

Stats of the Game

Minus-10 – Utah’s disadvantage in points off of turnovers, an area typically in the Jazz’s favor. The team’s four points scored off of Charlotte’s 12 giveaways was a season low.

36 percent – The Jazz’s field goal percentage. Joe Ingles,  Ricky Rubio,  Rodney Hood, and Joe Johnson all shot under 31 percent, which makes it awfully hard to win.

91 percent – Utah’s free throw percentage from 19 of 21 makes, which kept them in the game.

26 – Points in the paint for Utah, tied for the second-lowest this season.

8 – Dwight Howard free throws in the fourth quarter of which he made two. If Utah’s offense hadn’t unraveled, the Hack-a-Howard was working.

Sundries

  • Teams doubling teaming Mitchell of picks late in games is showing one of the young player’s few weaknesses. Coming out of Louisville, many NBA minds questioned whether Mitchell possessed the skill set to run a team. Halfway through the NBA season, he’s shown a surprisingly full toolbox: a good handle; uncommon awareness of his teammates positions in the half court; the ability to zip crisp skip and outlet passes, delicate pocket passes, and to get teammates the ball from odd angles; even the ability to penetrate a defense with the intent of opening up teammates for open threes. But he hasn’t found a way to punish teams for doubling him, either by breaking the trap with an unexpected dribble move, pulling the double team out away from the hoop to allow teammates to attack, or by passing out of traps. He’s too eager to pick up his dribble and telegraph passes by cocking the ball over his head. Coaches have lauded Mitchell’s ability to learn and apply things quickly, and there’s no doubt this is an area of focus in his development.
  • It isn’t often that Ingles, Johnson, and Hood combine to shoot as poorly as seven of 27 (26 percent). Utah just isn’t good enough to win games when that happens, and asking Mitchell to make up the difference isn’t realistic.
  • Favors managed seven rebounds, four assists, and two blocks but only took four shots, making two, for five points scored. Early in the year he and Rubio looked to have a strong connection in the pick and roll, but now defending bigs simply feel no need to protect the rim on Rubio’s drives. They feel Rubio’s man can recover and contest well enough to allow them to simply fall into the screener’s path to the hoop. This will be a problem for Rudy Gobert when he returns as well unless the team figures something out.
  • It’s unfortunate the Jazz crumbled late because this was a winnable game. The Hornets only shot 42 percent from the field and 33 percent from three. Rebounds, assists, and turnovers were all close to even. Realistic opportunities to win on the road have been precious, and Utah missed taking advantage of two on this trip, in Miami and now tonight.

On Monday the Jazz get a precious home game against the 22 and 20 Pacers, which will finally start a stretch of winnable games: Indiana at home then the Kings, Knicks, Clippers, Hawks, and Pistons. Four games back of the Pelicans means Utah is far from out of the playoff race, especially if Gobert can return to make the type of impact he’s capable of, but they have to make up some ground in this next stretch of games. Hopefully, that will start Monday.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

2 Comments

  1. John Jenkins says:

    Morning Clint and thanks for a bang up article. The 4 players you mentioned went 10 of 38. Two starters and the first 2 off the bench. Mitchell had a terrible end of the game but also watching was given little or no help. No one moved to him for a pass and made it on the rookie to finish. Yeah I know he has in the past but vets need to step up. Joe Ingles looks worn out. Start Ekpe! Can’t wait to see a summer of his work out on catching as Rudy did and shooting. What happened to Derrick Favors? He was not catching or defending? Does he know he is gone already? The Jazz really miss Raul and Rudy on both ends of the floor.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I think Favors was affected by Howard nearly always being in position to contest, sometimes directly between Favors and the basket, despite the many pick and rolls. The offense really isn’t designed to get him the ball much outside that action, and it isn’t working well for the Jazz right now. Though it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s in a difficult psychological place. I think a number of Jazz players are now, especially Hood.

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