This is the signature line of the touring show being staged a few blocks away, as the NBA playoffs follow their own script at Vivint Smart Home Arena: “I am not throwing away my shot.”
Displaying poise and toughness, the Jazz followed through Friday night with a 96-91 victory over Oklahoma City in Game 6 of a first-round series. They didn’t throw away their shot of advancing to the Western Conference semifinals, even after blowing a 25-point lead in the third quarter of a Game 5 loss.
Wow. What a show. Think about it: If not for the Jazz’s collapse Wednesday, fans wouldn’t have been treated to this unforgettable production. And nobody could complain about the officiating, after a favorable no-call on a critical OKC possession.
So the Jazz’s answer to “Hamilton” played out well in the end, with the memorable quote coming from rookie Donovan Mitchell as he exited the court Wednesday in Oklahoma City: “See y’all next year.”
That’s as opposed to Sunday, when the Jazz will be playing Game 1 in Houston instead of subjecting themselves to Game 7 in OKC. The Jazz have moved on, thanks to a phenomenal effort from Mitchell and others in the absence of point guard Ricky Rubio, who exited with a hamstring injury in the first quarter.
They did it with Mitchell making 10 shots in a row and scoring 22 points of his 38 points in the third quarter as the Jazz took a 78-70 lead. They rode their defense to the end of an adventurous series, absorbing the 46 points of OKC’s Russell Westbrook.
In praise of Mitchell, Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, “Sometimes the team needs a guy to take things on his shoulders.”
The Jazz also got 11 points from Alec Burks, who’s not a rotation regular, and a huge jump shot from Derrick Favors that gave the Jazz a 94-91 lead with 1:08 remaining. Favors is “just kind of there when you need him,” Snyder said.
The Jazz had to withstand five 3-point attempts by the Thunder in the last minute, three of them with the lead down to three points. And if Rudy Gobert’s foul trouble undermined the Jazz’s effort in Game 5, everything evened out on OKC’s last sequence with a chance to tie. The Thunder forever will believe Gobert fouled Paul George on a 3-point try. The no-call went into the books as an airball, with Mitchell rebounding the ball and making two clinching free throws.
Gobert “clearly banged into him,” said OKC coach Billy Donovan, who may have been more angry if he had known George’s shot was a 3-point attempt.
The final minute was a wild adventure, as the Thunder kept missing shots and rebounding the ball. “It seemed like we were on defense for a long time,” Snyder said in a big understatement. “… We kept our composure defensively.”
The overriding emotion in Jazzland has to be relief, mixed with a lot of joy. In the buildup to Game 6, there were understandable fears that “71-46” would become the Jazz’s version of “28-3” — Atlanta’s lead over New England in a recent Super Bowl. The difference is the Falcons didn’t get two more shots at the Patriots after giving away their 25-point lead and losing in overtime.
So the intrigue surrounding Friday’s game involved how the Jazz would respond, knowing they may never be in a more favorable position to eliminate Oklahoma City than they were Wednesday. The feeling was different going into last April’s Game 6 vs. the Los Angeles Clippers, with the Jazz having won Games 4 and 5 and fans fully expecting them to close out the series at home.
They failed to do so, although they recovered to win Game 7 in Los Angeles. That outcome was not especially surprising, considering the way road teams thrived in that series.
This series unfolded more traditionally. The Jazz followed their Game 2 rally in Oklahoma City by winning Games 3 and 4 at home, ensuring themselves of a chance to advance with another home-court victory. Yet it was natural to wonder if they really were destined to win this series, after what happened in Game 5.
In Friday’s case, the Jazz started slowly, and then their offense got worse when Rubio was injured. But they kept battling, earning a 41-all halftime tie and they were relentless in the second half, building a 13-point lead before holding off the Thunder in the final seconds.
The Jazz have taken five straight series as a No. 5 seed over the past 31 seasons, meaning they’ve won without the home-court advantage. In 2007, they proceeded to beat No. 8 seed Golden State in the West semifinals. In the subsequent series vs. No. 1 seeds, they have lasted anywhere from four to seven games before being eliminated.
Any breakthrough, anywhere, against a 65-win Houston would be an achievement, a memorable performance for this team. No matter what happens, the 2017-18 Jazz won’t be saddled with the disgrace of having lost Game 5. They’ll be remembered for winning Game 6, and deservedly so.