Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. • While competing against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Utah Jazz were also looking at another formidable opponent: Time.
The successful high-flying race for the Jazz – winners of six consecutive games until Tuesday night – was always going to come to an end. The question was when. And where.
In the end, it took three All-Stars to finish Utah's winning streak, with one of them playing at the level that made him an MVP last season. The others showed up at the right time: Paul George and Carmelo Anthony made baskets in the final two minutes that extended the Thunder to a 100-94 victory over the Jazz in front of a crowd at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
For Utah, playing the second night of a back-to-back after a midnight flight that spans two time zones, was perhaps understandable, but disappointing anyway. Donovan Mitchell scored 31 points (19 in the second half), but the score went dry in a fourth quarter. Oklahoma City dominated, 32-14.
"I thought our guys ran out of energy for a moment, just emotionally," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "We have to be able to play through that."
Over and over again, Snyder implored his team to push the transition and force the Thunder out of his stingy half court defense. That initial energy helped propel the Jazz with a 17-point lead in the third quarter, as Mitchell again rose above rookie status to lead the way.
But in that critical quarter, the fortunes turned around. The Jazz could not polish the cubes that kept them at the forefront, and scored without a run for more than five minutes as the Thunder approached: 12 points with 11 minutes left, the Jazz found the three with 3:35. go.
Russell Westbrook, worthy of his MVP title, managed a triple double by delivering 34 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds. The Jazz struggled to contain their explosive impulses, and their shot was good enough to keep the defense close on the perimeter.
But in the end it was a group effort: Anthony and George combined with Westbrook to score 25 of the Thunder 32 points of the fourth quarter. After Alec Burks pirouetted for a layup and added an extra free throw, George, Anthony and Steven Adams (20 points, 9 rebounds) scored before the Jazz could find an answer.
"They attacked us," said Rudy Gobert, who struggled (five points, six rebounds) in his second game because of an injury. "They got everything they wanted in the last quarter."
It was the biggest advantage of the season for Utah. Before Tuesday night, the fourth quarter was the best in Utah with the most points scored (26.5 points per game) and the lowest number of points allowed (22.8 points per game). Oklahoma City, on the other hand, had faced weeks of sharpness for its poor play statistics.
Maybe it was the power of the Thunder star to get baskets, or the tired legs of the Jazz that contributed to the short shots and the rebounds lost. Maybe it was the missing elements of Utah's injured players: the Rodney Hood score or Joe Johnson's balance in the last game. Maybe it was a mixture of all the above.
"We definitely want to be that kind of team that stops defensively, and we've been that team," Mitchell said. "But accept them for the way they played tonight."
The Jazz put a limit on the best basketball streak they have played all season. During the six-game winning streak, the Jazz scored five teams by 19 or more points, including a historically dominant home game against the Washington Wizards the night before.
He also had a meteoric run from Mitchell, who was once again the toughest offensive player to protect against Oklahoma City. Considering his 31 points, four assists and five steals on Tuesday night, Mitchell's recent career has been as good as any rookie in the league.
Perhaps the most important thing is that the streak was fun for the players who created it. He reminded the Jazz why the organization committed to an offense oriented to the movement of balls and a culture of first defense and why it doubled with those values after its most visible star in Gordon Hayward left last summer.
of Utah's first loss since November 20, the visiting locker room looked bleak. But there was hope that the rest of the NBA has not yet seen the best of Jazz.
"Obviously we had problems in the last quarter and we closed the last quarter, but we are still very good," said Joe Ingles, who had 16 points. "I think when we play according to our style and play how we want to play, we can beat any team."