Once again, the Utah Jazz suffered a playoff meltdown. Making an early exit from the NBA playoffs hurt a lot more this time around.
The number one seeded Jazz fell to the Los Angeles Clippers in six games after losing a 2-0 lead in the series. Injuries to All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, coupled with defensive weaknesses revealed by the Clippers’ small-ball lineups, knocked out a Utah team after dominating the regular season.
For a team that ceded a 3-1 lead to Denver a season earlier, that latest playoff setback left an additional bitter taste.
“It hurts more than last year because we were up again and lost again,” Mitchell said. “It will eat away at me. Even when I go to the grocery store, I will think about it.
Mitchell took another step forward during the playoffs as a rising superstar for the Jazz, even playing despite the pain after again injuring his right ankle early in the series against the Clippers.
The two-time NBA star missed Utah’s last 16 regular season games after spraining his ankle in mid-April. He eventually returned to action in Game 2 against Memphis in the first round.
Mitchell ended up averaging 32.3 points, 5.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds during the playoffs. He tallied 39 points, nine rebounds and nine assists – all while making nine 3-pointers – in his last game against the Clippers, becoming the first NBA player to display that stat line in a playoff game.
“He’s a warrior,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s a unique player who has the competitiveness and the desire to play through that kind of pain.”
The Jazz had a net odds of +9.3 at the top of the league and kept their opponents at 107.2 points per game during the regular season. However, their strong defense struggled in the playoffs against smaller rosters dotted with versatile athletic players.
Against Los Angeles, Utah surrendered 125.0 points per game in four straight losses that ended their season and saw the Clippers shoot at least 56% from the field in two of four straight losses.
The Jazz ceded a 25-point third-quarter lead in Game 6 after allowing Los Angeles to score 81 points on 45 possessions.
Now Utah will be spending an offseason doing some soul-searching and figuring out what the franchise’s next step should be.
“Obviously we had higher expectations than losing in the second round so it’s painful,” said Rudy Gobert. “You try to ask yourself the right questions and try to think of what we can do to make this stop happening. ”
One of the biggest offseason issues that Jazz faces is the point guard. Conley is set to become a free agent and bringing him back should be a priority for the team.
His state of health could be a determining factor in the size and duration of the contract offer. Conley suffered from recurring hamstring injuries during his two seasons in Utah. Hamstring strain caused him to miss every game in the series except one with the Clippers.
When in good health, Conley led the attack smoothly and efficiently. His presence allowed Mitchell and Gobert to have a bigger impact on offense and defense, respectively. Conley also won his first career NBA All-Star title last season after averaging 16.2 points and 6.0 assists in 51 regular-season games. He also offered valuable leadership on the pitch and in the locker room.
For his part, Conley has expressed his willingness to continue his career with the franchise. He enjoyed being a part of Jazz for two eventful seasons.
“Obviously I can’t speak, look ahead and know exactly what’s going to happen,” said Conley, who spent his first 12 seasons with Memphis. “(This is) actually my first time as a real free agent, so it will be interesting. But I loved it here. We’ll see what happens.”
REVISION COMING SOON?
Several trades and / or signings could be ahead for Utah ahead of the offseason if the Jazz decide to reshape the roster to fill the defensive gaps that surfaced during the playoffs.
Besides Conley, Georges Niang is a key free agent. Niang has carved out a place for himself in Snyder’s nine-man rotation with his outside shot and improved perimeter defense. The forward averaged a career-high 6.9 points in 16.0 minutes per game, while shooting 42.5 percent from the field, but struggled on both ends of the field in the playoffs .
Joe Ingles could provide useful business value in the offseason. The veteran guard owes $ 14 million at the start of the final year of a four-year contract he signed in 2017. Ingles has become one of the league’s top outside shooters – and shot a career record. by 45.1% at long distance this season – but could be sacrificed in the quest for long, versatile and athletic wings to bolster Utah’s perimeter defense.
Several jazz players will change gears and join their national teams for the Tokyo Olympics later this summer. Ingles has confirmed his intention to play for Australia. Bojan Bogdanovic will play for Croatia. Rudy Gobert will play for France.
Mitchell and Conley are both questionable about joining the United States squad while recovering from their late-season injuries. Conley has expressed interest in participating if his hamstrings are healthy.