Jazz Most Difficult Season Ends With Loss In Game Seven
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – After the most adversity filled season the team has ever faced; a league suspended by a pandemic, two star players’ testing positive for the coronavirus, an ensuing rift between those players, a wave of social justice protests that spread throughout the country and into the locker room, and a return to the floor in an NBA bubble without their second-leading scorer, the Utah Jazz season is over.
Mike Conley’s running three-point shot rimmed out as time expired, and the Jazz fell to the Denver Nuggets 80-78 in one of the most exciting seven-game series in recent NBA history. A fitting close to a season littered with violent ups and down both on and off the floor.
The Jazz leave the NBA bubble after 56 days in Orlando with a hard-fought first-round series loss, and another season-ending far sooner than the team had hoped.
After a 19 point deficit early in the second half, the Jazz went on a furious run, pieced together by Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, the teammates turned foes turned teammates, and nearly escaped the series with a come from behind win, but ultimately fell short.
Mitchell finished the game with 22 points, nine rebounds, but a stunning nine turnovers, including on the Jazz second to final possession when on the drive, with a chance to tie the game, Nuggets guard Gary Harris poked the ball away from behind leading to a furious final sequence that resulted in Conley’s missed shot.
Gobert recorded 19 points and 18 rebounds, most of which came in the second half, but couldn’t prevent Nuggets center Nikola Jokic from hitting a spinning hook shot with 27 seconds left in the game which proved to be the difference in the series finale.
Conley, the Jazz star acquisition this offseason finished shooting just 2-13 from the floor, scoring eight points, but needing 11 to send the Jazz to the second round.
A Difficult Season Comes To An End
Rarely have the Jazz, one of the league’s most stable franchises, seemed to have so little control over the major events throughout a season.
In addition to trading for Conley, the Jazz signed Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, and Jeff Green to fill the roster with high character veterans. By January 1, Green had been waived, and Davis was slumping his way out of the team’s rotation entirely.
The Jazz former top-five pick Dante Exum, finally healthy after a series of unfortunate injuries hadn’t developed well under the team’s watch and was shipped to Cleveland in exchange for guard Jordan Clarkson.
Days later, after a rocky start to the season, Conley would suffer a strained hamstring that would sideline the veteran for 19 of the next 20 games. During his absence, the Jazz would go on a tear, winning 15 of 19 games, and re-establishing themselves as a threat for a deep playoff run in the West.
During his absence, former NBA commissioner David Stern would pass away from a sudden brain hemorrhage, and Los Angles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant would die in a tragic helicopter crash, adding unshakable emotional weight to the season for every NBA team.
Over the next month and a half, Conley bounced in and out of the lineup before a pandemic suspended the Jazz season.
While the league was in hiatus, the organization lost Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan, the winningest coach in franchise history.
When the Jazz returned, they were without Bogdanovic, nursing a broken relationship back together, and working to become faces of a nationwide equal rights movement.
Ultimately, after scrambles to fix a broken roster, then a broken locker room, followed by a broken season, a scrambling missed shot on a broken play ended the Jazz seemingly impossibly difficult season.
Raw Emotions After The Game
Both Mitchell and Gobert sat in their makeshift postgame media availability with tears in their eyes. Mitchell distraught after blowing a three to one series lead. Gobert exhausted after the up and down season.
“We fought hard and came back,” Mitchell said as his voice broke. “I would go to war with anyone of these guys in the locker room any one of these coaches. We could easily have chalked it up in the first half and said oh well, but we have grit and fight. And that’s all you can really ask for.”
Mitchell wasn’t ignorant of the many ways in which the Jazz allowed the Nuggets to climb back into and ultimately win the series.
“You can go to my eight-second violation in game one,” Mitchell remembered. “We can go to blowing a 15 point lead in game five. We can go to not being ready to play, not matching their level in game six. There are so many things I just feel like we could have did. And we didn’t.”
Meanwhile, a worn-out Gobert expressed gratitude towards the way the team responded to the difficult season.
“The goal wasn’t to lose in the first round obviously,” Gobert said. “But I’m was proud of the way we handled everything that happened within our team. I didn’t think a lot of teams would be able to go through that, I’m talking about especially Donovan and myself being able to come back and play the way we played even though we came up short. I think it’s very encouraging for the future.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder echoed his star players’ sentiments.
“It’s one of the toughest losses that I think that I’ve been involved with,” Snyder said. “We’ve got many levels in what this team’s been through. Since we were in Oklahoma City and the season was stopped, what we went through over a period of months. To have this group come back together here in Orlando, and just to see the competitiveness, the unselfishness. The team that really came together and grew and wish we would have had a chance to keep playing. I think that’s the thing that hurts the most right now. ”
Entering a Curious Offseason
After a season of ups and downs, the team enters perhaps the most mysterious offseason in recent memory. One that still has an uncertain start date, and an even more uncertain end date.
Mitchell and Gobert are eligible for early contract extensions. Mitchell will certainly receive the highest possible dollar total as soon as the Jazz can have it on the table in front of him. Gobert’s might not come so quickly, and almost certainly won’t be at the highest figure the Jazz can offer.
Jordan Clarkson is an unrestricted free agent and was a terrific fit with the team during the regular season. Despite struggling over the final few games of the postseason, the Jazz will likely be aggressive in bringing the sixth man back.
After signing Clarkson, or letting the guard walk, the Jazz will have a better understanding of the salary cap exceptions they have at their disposal.
The team owns the 23rd pick in the first round of the NBA draft. Currently set for October 16, the league still hasn’t finalized plans for how teams can work out or meet to potential prospects. Fans shouldn’t be surprised if the draft gets moved to a later date to accommodate teams after a rigorous close to the season.
The Jazz must also make contractual decisions on Georges Niang, Emmanuel Mudiay, Miye Oni, Jarrell Brantley, Justin Wright-Foreman, Rayjon Tucker, Juwan Morgan, and Nigel Williams-Goss.
The season could begin as soon as December 1, though the strong belief around the league is games won’t begin until January at the absolute earliest.
The Jazz finished the season with a record of 44-28 and a 4-3 series loss in the opening round the playoffs.
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