You could sense it the moment Rudy Gobert tumbled to the ground, writhing in pain. The tone and mood changed in the arena, on Twitter and even on the Jazz TV broadcast after seeing the Stifle Tower collapse. And with that fall, Utah’s season ended (barring a monumental collapse by Houston and a Jazz victory on Wednesday) the way it began: under a cloud of injuries. What was already going to be a tough test of grit for Utah with a mostly healthy squad, became a nearly impossible task with Gobert sitting, Derrick Favors hobbled, and Alec Burks still rusy, having just returned from his own injury.
Now, that isn’t to take away from what Dallas did tonight. Matt Harpring single-handedly ensured that the Jazz broadcast’s viewers understood the fantastic performances by Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, his star Dirk Nowitzki, and former Jazzmen Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews. And it is true. The Mavericks showed their experience and executed an impressive defensive game plan, ruthlessly attacking the mismatches the Jazz intentionally gave them by switching pick & rolls. Every time Utah made a run, the Mavericks calmly answered. They weren’t scared or intimidated. The “moment” didn’t freeze any of Mavericks important players.
When you look at the experience of the Mavericks compared to the Jazz, it’s like comparing a healthy Favors to a hobbled Favors: the difference is painfully obvious. Viewers witnessed both tonight. But the loss was not a foregone conclusion. The Jazz either eliminated or cut the Mavericks lead to within one, two, four, and six multiple times through the game. However, Utah couldn’t do the one thing they needed to do without their big men, make open three pointers. Jazz shot a putrid 2-18 from behind the arc in the second half. Gordon Hayward missed wide open look after wide open look (1-9). Rodney Hood found pure metal on all but one of his seven three-point attempts.
The only way a team can walk away with a “W” when they are as injured and outcoached as the Jazz were is if every player plays perfect. The Jazz didn’t get that perfection on Monday night. Given Utah’s injuries and relative inexperience, the loss was understandable. But tonight was only one game. A loss on 4/11 stings, but Utah has lost 40 other games, too, including some to inexperienced teams with drastically worse talent than Utah. Here is a more reasonable list of things Jazz fans should lament:
No doubt lamentations are in order for Jazz players and fans, but not because Dallas beat Utah tonight. Lamentations are in order for a season that could have been, a season full of “what ifs” and “if onlys”. Of course, Jazz fans can still cling to the hope that a Boogie-less1 Sacramento squad will upend Houston on Wednesday. The chances of that are only slightly better than their 0.5% odds of winning the NBA lottery. But who knows, given Utah’s poor luck with injuries this season, maybe a final fortuitous favor from the basketball gods is due.