The supremely annoying Utah Jazz were eliminated from the playoffs Thursday night, in a two-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6 of their first-round series. Utah had a 12-point lead at halftime, but the Mavericks caught fire in the third quarter, surged into the lead, and then held on through a close and chaotic final few minutes of regulation. The win sends Dallas through to the second round for the first time in the Luka Doncic era; the loss closes Utah’s sixth straight playoff appearance without advancing to the conference finals, and will practically demand some sort of organizational shakeup.
That the Jazz must now spend their summer eating shit is right and good. Unfortunately, the cosmos, in their mysterious wisdom, chose to drag out into the spotlight and punish two of the very least annoying Jazz players, while allowing two of the most annoying basketball players on Earth to maintain whatever is left of their dignity. The annoying guys, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, must endure the disappointment of failure, but individually they were fine. Gobert, a big-talking but world-historically thin-skinned microphone-licker, posted a respectable double-double, knocked down all his free throws, and apart from his difficulties defending around the perimeter during Dallas’s big third quarter was solid, despite playing with a face swollen up following an attack by his own bees. Mitchell, whose personal distaste for Gobert has forced poor Quin Snyder into new depths of public debasement, and whose defensive effort has been lost to a debilitating case of Mamba Brain, posted an efficient near-triple-double in a team-high 39 minutes.
Instead, the two players who will suffer the most personal torment over Thursday’s loss are Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, a couple of likable veteran guys who like the rest of Utah’s role players are even more stuck with the team’s fraudulence and melodrama than the rest of us. Conley, who apart from a solid Game 3 in a losing effort had an absolute nightmare of a series, made the game’s signature fuck-up, costing Utah a possession it very much could not afford to spare. With Utah down a point inside the game’s final 10 seconds, the Jazz collected a Doncic miss and raced the other way against a scrambling Dallas defense. Conley took a hit-ahead pass from Mitchell on the right wing, and drove to his left across the paint, looking to force the action. Unfortunately, Gobert was at that moment doing the only thing he is qualified to do in that scenario, which is sprint straight to the front of the rim. Conley drove basically directly into his teammate, then picked up his dribble, leaving him nowhere to go and no time for a thorough survey of the situation. This immediately went from bad to worse:
With all due respect to Mike Conley, who is a very good basketball player and is normally one of the smarter, more careful guards in the league, if the Jazz need to save a little money on short guys who panic with the basketball and commit embarrassing travel violations at the absolute worst possible time, I am never more than a phone call away.
This excruciating mistake did not doom the Jazz. Utah used a foul to extend the game and send the excellent Jalen Brunson to the stripe, where he converted one of two free throws to push Dallas’s lead to two points. With 4.3 seconds left on the clock and the season on the line, Snyder drew up an absolute beauty of an inbounds play, which thanks to a Mavericks defensive breakdown left Bogdanovic with a clean catch, time enough to let the only defender in the same area code fly by on a desperate closeout, and more space than you could ever hope for for the game-winner:
There’s a reason Snyder orchestrated this play to get the ball into Bogdanovic’s hands. He takes and makes a lot of threes, and is a dependable catch-and-shoot sniper, and is aces on open or wide-open looks. There’s not a spot along the three-point arc where Bogdanovic isn’t an above-average shooter. That was a great damn look! Pin a small medal to Snyder’s lapel for scripting a set that with one pass generated the highest-value shot in the sport, for the absolute ideal shooter, in a do-or-die scenario. Everyone in the arena knew what a rare opportunity the Jazz had created. “Bogey don’t miss a lot of those,” said Doncic after the game. “My heart stopped. It felt like that shot was 15 seconds in the air.”
Bogdanovic will feel like absolute shit about that miss today, and quite possibly for a long, long time. “Quin drew a great play,” a hollow-eyed Bogdanovic explained at the postgame lectern. “It was designed for either me or Donovan … I was wide open. I would take that shot 10 out of 10 times. I was wide open.” He probably could’ve taken the lane to the hoop—he was so incredibly open over there that there were probably a dozen different ways to get a good shot—but he felt that the Mavericks were “doing a great job rotating all series long” and that he was unlikely to be rewarded with a whistle if he drove for a contested layup. “Like I said, I was wide open, the team trusted me, and that’s what it is. Unfortunately, I missed the shot. It was a great look.”
I feel grateful, as a basketball fan, that the Utah Jazz are now the hell out of my face for a good long while. Still I feel that I must register a complaint: If this team is to go down in flames, it would be preferable if the signature failures could be directly pinned onto the two players who make them so intolerable in the first place. Next time let’s have Mitchell soar in for a thunderous putback jam on the wrong basket, and then Gobert can slip on a McDouble that has fallen out of his own pocket.