“This is the team we want to be” | Clutch performance silences critics

When Rudy Gobert walked into his post-match press conference on Saturday night, the 7-foot Frenchman somehow had his tall frame fit behind a full-sized desk. With ice on his knees, Gobert eventually made his way into a comfortable position, rarely making eye contact with the large number of media members waiting to ask him questions.

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

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

Speaking only of the facts, Gobert was right — this version of the Jazz, which was able to do something very few teams in the past decade have done in the playoffs, is precisely what it wants to be.

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

What makes Utah’s ability to close strong even better is that their struggles in the clutch — the last five minutes of games — have been well documented over the past month or so.

Unable to take advantage of double-digit second-half leads in losses to Dallas, LA Clippers, Golden State and Phoenix to close out the regular season, the narrative about the Jazz entering the playoffs was a team not mentally strong enough to really fight.

Saturday afternoon ended that conversation – doing so with an exclamation mark.

Utah started its comeback when Donovan Mitchell recovered his own missed shot and put it back in place to end the game at three points. After a foul at the other end resulted in two missed free throws by Dwight Powell, the Jazz had the ball down by one point with less than 20 seconds left.

On the possession that followed, the one that held their season in balance, Mitchell and Gobert executed 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 best regular season as far as critical time goes for me, but I’m not going to sit there and let that affect how we continue to move forward through the playoffs,” added Mitchell.

While it’s one thing to take the lead with just 11 seconds remaining, the job wasn’t done as the Jazz still needed a stoppage – and waiting for them with the ball in his hands was Luka Doncic, the one of the best shooters in the game.

But unlike what they were able to do in those games a few weeks ago, the Jazz played perfect defense. Bojan Bogdanovic – the game’s unsung hero – kicked things off by denying Doncic the entry pass, forcing Jalen Brunson to raise the ball.

By the time Doncic received the ball, there were just five seconds left. The Jazz immediately threw him a double team, forcing more time out of time. Their rotations were perfect as Doncic found Spender Dinwiddie on the wing, forcing him to fire a contested three-pointer over Gobert’s outstretched arm.

The result? A failure for the Nuggets and a victory for the Jazz.

“It was metaphorical on some level,” head coach Quin Snyder said after the game. “We defended to win tonight. You can’t say enough about Bojan’s (Bogdanovic) competitiveness. … It made everyone more urgent.”

As for Bogdanovic’s defensive effort throughout the match, it did not go unnoticed.

“He didn’t even tell anyone he was going to do this,” Mitchell said. “He just went out there and got on top of 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 shut down 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 this period. The Jazz’s 12-point halftime lead had disintegrated entirely and they found themselves three points behind in the final 12 minutes.

Rather than put their heads down or try to play hero ball in the fourth, Utah fought back as a unit. Their mental strength to put the past behind them and find fourth quarter success cannot be underestimated – this is a team that will not be defeated easily.

Instead of being 3-1 heading into Dallas in a do-or-die situation, the Jazz find themselves tied at 2-2 and armed with new life and confidence.

“A lot of people talk about our team, our guys, the future, what can happen, what might not happen, a lot of different things that ultimately don’t have a importance to us right now,” Gobert said. mentioned. “We have a team, we are 2-2 in the series, and that is our goal.”

About Selena J. Killeen

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