For three quarters, Utah looked like the best team in the league.
Against a fully healthy Suns squad — the No. 1 team in the NBA — the Jazz were far superior and it showed, jumping out to a 17-point lead entering the fourth.
But Phoenix showed why they're the top team in the fourth quarter, staging a stunning comeback as Utah lost steam in the end, falling 111-105 on Friday night. With the loss, Utah stays in the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference playoffs, tied with the Denver Nuggets — but the Jazz own the head-to-head, giving them the higher seed.
"I believe in this team," head coach Quin Snyder said postgame. "There's nothing magical about how we played against the best team in the league. … No one's run from their mistakes."
While some may continue to discredit the Jazz following the fourth quarter collapse, that's not entirely true looking at the bigger picture.
This veteran team knows how to play in the closing minutes of games — they did it all last year and were wildly successful. Mitchell, who a lot of the criticism has been directed at unfairly, has been one of the premier closers in the games since he entered the league. Even though he's admitted his struggles in the fourth this season, he's still the player Utah wants with the ball at the end.
Also, the Jazz led by 17 points through three quarters against the top team in the league. That point can't be overstated enough. Very few teams in the league are talented enough to do that — and not only did Utah do it, but they also did it surprisingly easily through efficiency on both ends of the court.
"We did a lot of good things to put ourselves in the position we were in," Snyder said. "As we got into crunch time, we didn't continue to do those things. I don't think there's a psychological hurdle to overcome. … It's more about flat-out execution."
In what amounted to a playoff-like atmosphere, Utah struggled out of the gates as nothing was going through the hoop. Despite good looks and running the offense at a high level, the ball just didn't want to go home as the Suns jumped out to an 11-0 lead.
But as they've done countless times throughout the year, the Jazz showed how resilient they are and closed the gap following a 12-4 run before trailing 30-24 at the end of the first.
The second quarter is where Utah began to take over, going on a 14-0 run to start as the energy of Danuel House Jr. and Juancho Hernangomez gave them a lift against Phoenix's second unit.
After Utah's lead reached double digits, Devin Booker caught fire late in the quarter when he went on a personal 9-0 run as the Suns regained the lead. However, it was short-lived as Donovan Mitchell and House closed the half with buckets to give the Jazz a 57-54 advantage at the break.
The third quarter is where the Jazz really began to impose their will.
Utah began to slowly pull away in the third as tough defense and impressive shotmaking proved to be the difference, culminating in a thing of beauty when Jordan Clarkson capped off an 8-1 run with a buzzer-beating three-pointer to give Jazz a 92-75 lead entering the fourth.
"I don't think there's some sort of voodoo hex floating around," Snyder said. "There's little anxieties. We need to take ownership of the things we need to do better. … This team has always been able to do that."
Despite off shooting nights, Bojan Bogdanovic led Utah with 21 points and seven rebounds, while Rudy Gobert finished with a double-double of 16 and 12 rebounds. Hassan Whiteside and House combined for 23 points off the bench.
Mitchell finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, and five assists, while Mike Conley added 13 points and eight assists, a strong performance from Utah's backcourt.
The Jazz will close out the regular season on Sunday when they travel to Portland to face the Trail Blazers — tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. MST. A win would clinch the No. 5 seed in the playoffs and the Northwest Division.