featured-image

"This Is The Team We Want To Be" | Clutch Performance Silences Critics

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

When Rudy Gobert entered his postgame media press conference on Saturday evening, the 7-footer from France somehow fit his large frame behind a normal-sized desk. With ice on his knees, Gobert eventually finagled his way into a comfortable position, rarely making eye contact with the large hoard of media members waiting to ask him questions. 

When he finally lifted his head and looked ahead, the ordinarily stoic Gobert revealed a sly smile across his chiseled face. 

"This is the team we want to be. … This is who we want to say that we are," he said. 

Speaking only facts, Gobert was correct — this version of the Jazz, who were able to do something very few teams in the last decade have done in the postseason, are precisely who they want to be. 

Through excellent execution on offense and physicality on defense, Utah overcame a four-point deficit with less than 40 seconds to play — becoming one of four teams to accomplish the feat.

What makes Utah's ability to close out strong even better was that their struggles in the clutch — the final five minutes of games — have been well-documented over the past month or so. 

Unable to take advantage of second half double-digit leads in losses to Dallas, LA Clippers, Golden State, and Phoenix to close out the regular season, the narrative on the Jazz coming into the postseason was a team not mentally tough enough to truly contend. 

Saturday afternoon put an end to that talk — doing so with an exclamation point. 

Utah started its comeback when Donovan Mitchell corralled his own missed shot and put it back up to complete the three-point play. After a foul on the other end resulted in two missed free throws by Dwight Powell, the Jazz had the ball trailing by one with less than 20 seconds remaining. 

On the ensuing possession, the one that held their season in the balance, Mitchell and Gobert ran the pick-and-roll to perfection. After being double-teamed, Mitchell found Gobert for an alley-oop dunk, giving the Jazz a lead they would never relinquish.

"He made the right play with the lob. … I just had to finish it," Gobert said.

"It hasn't been the greatest regular season as far as crunch time for me, but I'm not going to sit there and let that affect how we continue to go throughout the rest of the playoffs," Mitchell added.

While it's one thing to get the lead with just 11 seconds remaining, the job wasn't done as the Jazz still needed a stop — and awaiting them with the ball in his hands was Luka Doncic, one of the best closers in the game. 

But unlike they were able to do in those games a few weeks ago, the Jazz played perfect defense. Bojan Bogdanovic — the unsung hero of the game — got things started when he denied the entrance pass to Doncic, forcing Jalen Brunson to bring the ball up. 

By the time Doncic received the ball, only five seconds remained. The Jazz immediately threw a double-team at him, forcing more time off the clock. Their rotations were pristine as Doncic found Spender Dinwiddie on the wing, forcing him to launch a contested three-pointer over the outstretched arm of Gobert. 

The result? A miss by the Nuggets and a win for the Jazz. 

"It was metaphoric on some level," head coach Quin Snyder said postgame. "We defended to win tonight. You can't say enough about Bojan's (Bogdanovic) competitiveness. … That made everyone more urgent."

As for Bogdanovic's defensive effort throughout the game, it didn't go unnoticed.

"He didn't even tell anyone he was going to do that," Mitchell said. "He just went out there and put it on himself to defend that way and give that kind of effort. When you see a guy playing like that, you have no choice but to follow. He led by example."

What makes Utah's ability to close strong even more impressive is that they were outscored by 15 points in the third quarter, allowing the Mavericks to shoot 8-of-11 from three-point territory during that time. The Jazz's 12-point lead at the half had disintegrated entirely, and they found themselves trailing by three entering the final 12 minutes. 

Rather than hanging their heads or trying to play hero ball in the fourth, Utah fought back together as a unit. Their mental fortitude to put the past behind them and find success in the fourth quarter cannot be understated — this is a team that will not be vanquished easily. 

Instead of finding themselves down 3-1 heading back to Dallas in a do-or-die situation, the Jazz finds themselves tied at 2-2 and armed with new life and confidence.

"A lot of people are talking about our team, our guys, the future, what can happen, what might not happen, about a lot of different things that at the end of the day for us right now don't matter," Gobert said. "We have a team, we're 2-2 in the series, and that's our focus."