On a night where the Utah Jazz needed everything to fall perfectly, they simply failed to do their part. In order to make the playoffs as the #8 seed in the Western Conference, the Jazz needed to hold serve against Memphis and receive some help from the Houston Rockets in knocking off the Los Angeles Lakers. By 10:30 pm on the East Coast, the Jazz were eliminated and all eyes shifted from a “win or go home” scenario for LA to a simple battle for seeding between the Rockets and Lakers.
The Jazz shot an abysmal 32% from the field in route to just 70 points, and as a result, Utah suffered a 16-point loss that will leave a negative taste in the collective mouths of Salt Lake City for the next six months. Paul Millsap and Mo Williams (the second and third options, respectively) combined to shoot just 5-for-20 from the field on the night, and Al Jefferson’s 22-point, 16-rebound performance wasn’t enough to overcome a wretched offensive night from the entire Utah supporting cast. In addition to their offensive struggles however, the Jazz were dominated on the glass (57-47), and Zach Randolph seemed to want a victory more than anyone on Utah’s roster, as he finished with 25 points and 19 rebounds.
Later in the evening, the Lakers “bailed out” the Jazz by holding serve at home, and clinching the 7th seed with a 99-95 overtime win over Houston. Despite knowing that they didn’t need to win the game to make the playoffs, the Lakers fought valiantly throughout before finally grabbing the lead midway through the 4th quarter and holding on for dear life to the finish in overtime after allowing a game-tying three by Chandler Parsons to end regulation.
Los Angeles was led by their two-headed front-court monster, as Pau Gasol (17 points, 20 rebounds, 11 assists) and Dwight Howard (16 points, 18 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals) had tremendous games. Gasol got in the way-back machine offensively, doing it all from both the low post and the high post, while Howard asserted himself defensively from the opening tip and slammed it shut with a huge block of James Harden during the overtime period. The Lakers also got 24 unexpected points from Steve Blake (along with 7 assists and 7 rebounds), and while he wasn’t efficient at all (6-for-20 from the field), they desperately needed a backcourt scoring punch that he was able to provide.
On the Rockets side, this is a bit of a brutal sequence. With the loss, they fall all the way to the 8th spot, and while that positioning sets up a very juicy first-round match-up (i.e. Harden vs. the Thunder), it is a certainty that they would rather face off with the Spurs. Chandler Parsons (23 points, 10-18 FG) was tremendous in the game, but the Rockets’ normally efficient offense let them down a bit (including an 8-for-25 game from James Harden), and it wasn’t enough to get a road win.
When the dust settled, the Lakers went from the potential to be out of the playoffs to grabbing the #7 seed (and a match-up with San Antonio), the Rockets slipped to the #8 spot (where they’ll face OKC), and the Jazz were bound for a long summer at home in the Salt Lake City. It’s amazing what one night in the National Basketball Association can mean.