SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – It’s the same old story for the Utah Jazz. This team has no problem building big leads, but just cannot seem to close teams out.
Utah had a chance to build some real momentum going into the playoffs against the top team in the NBA, but blew another big fourth quarter lead.
The Jazz were up 17 points against the Phoenix Suns, but got outscored in the final quarter, 36-13, and lose 111-105.
Utah would have locked down the fifth seed in the Western Conference with a win, but now will need to either beat Portland on Sunday or have Denver lose to the L.A. Lakers to be the fifth seed. Otherwise, Utah will enter the playoffs as the sixth seed.
Devin Booker scored 33 points to lead the Suns, who wrapped up the #1 seed in the West long ago.
Deandre Ayton sealed the victory off a pass from Chris Paul with 18.4 seconds left. Ayton had 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Paul had 16 points and 16 assists to help the Suns extend their franchise record with their 64th victory.
Mikal Bridges added 18 points, capping a 14-0 Phoenix run in the fourth quarter to tie it at 98. His dunk and three-point play with 46 seconds remaining gave the Suns a 107-102 lead.
The Jazz didn’t score a field goal – nine straight misses — for almost seven minutes in the fourth quarter.
“We had six assists in the second half,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “The ball stopped moving. We gave up something. When you don’t have efficient possessions offensively, it becomes much more difficult for us to defend.”
Utah has lost 16 games where it held double-digit leads this season, and six games when it had a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. This is the third time in the last six games the Jazz have been unable to hold a 16-point lead or greater in the final quarter.
“I don’t think there’s some sort of voodoo hex floating around,” Snyder said. “There’s little anxieties. I believe in this team. There’s nothing magical about how we played against the best team in the league. We need to take ownership of the things we need to do better. We did a lot of good things to put ourselves in the position we were in. And as we got into crunch time, we didn’t continue to do those things.”
Bojan Bogdanovic scored 19 points for Utah. Slowed by Bridges, Donovan Mitchell had 18 points on 7-of-21 shooting. Mitchell was 0 for 6 from the field in the fourth quarter.
“I just got to be better,” Mitchell said. “I’ll take the blame. I just got to hit a shot in the fourth. I haven’t been good in the fourth all year.”
Rudy Gobert finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Jazz.
“We didn’t get stops and they were able to run,” Gobert said. “We stopped playing the way we were playing earlier. We do overthink in the fourth and in clutch time.”
After both teams had rested stars in their previous games, this one looked like a playoff preview with some brilliant execution at times and extraordinary effort.
Showing why these squads rank at the top in offensive efficiency, there were amazing baskets until the Suns suddenly clamped down.
The Suns long ago wrapped up the top seed in the NBA — and showed why they look like the team to beat.
“In hostile situations, it’s us against the world,” Bridges said. “We become tighter together and just get stronger. We’re one out there.”
The Suns finished with a franchise-record 32 road wins and become the first NBA team since 1969-70 New York Knicks to finish with a better road winning percentage than every other team’s home winning percentage.
“We have some villains on this team,” Bridges said. “They love breaking the hearts of the fans (on the road).”
Jordan Clarkson beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer to give Utah a 92-75 lead entering the fourth quarter, where the Jazz have been one of weakest finishers among playoff teams and the Suns have been the best.
The Jazz will wrap up the regular season Sunday night at Portland.
Carlos Boozer, who was a two-time All-Star with the Jazz, was honored during the third quarter to a standing chorus of Boooos — as was the custom in his 2004-10 Utah career. The Jazz haven’t been back to the Western Conference Finals since Boozer led them there in 2007.