Must-win games are rare in the NBA — at least until the playoffs.
They are more rare only two weeks into the marathon-like regular season.
The Utah Jazz played a game they needed badly Saturday night, however, and veteran point guard Jamaal Tinsley quarterbacked them to victory.
Just 24 hours after a miserable performance in Denver and staring into the teeth of an upcoming four-game road trip, Tinsley and the Jazz rolled to a 94-81 victory over Phoenix at EnergySolutions Arena.
How sorely did Utah need a win?
Coach Tyrone Corbin tightened his rotation like it was the postseason.
Gordon Hayward, who scored 18 points, played 43 minutes. Tinsley, starting in place of injured Mo Williams, played 41.
“Everybody knew what was at stake,” said Marvin Williams, who scored 13 points in 38 minutes.
Individually, Tinsley stole the spotlight.
In only his third NBA start since the 2007-08 season, he went scoreless. But his 14 assists were five more than any Jazz player had previously handed out this season. He had six in the first quarter, when Utah jumped to a 29-19 lead.
“I thought he was great,” said Corbin. “It’s difficult — people don’t understand — when somebody goes down and you actually start and play the minutes he played tonight.
“I thought he got a little tired at the end and made some errant plays. But, for the most part, he directed the offense for us very well and got us into the stuff we needed to get into.”
Tinsley made only his second start in two seasons with the Jazz.
Once again, however, he came through with a dynamic performance despite limited minutes in the first six games.
“I just respect his professionalism all the time he’s been here,” said Corbin. “He’s always been ready when we’ve called in him. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do, and I really appreciate it.”
Marvin Williams agreed.
“That’s the definition of a pro,” he said. “... That’s a guy who has been in the league for a while and takes his job very seriously.”
With Tinsley running the offense, Utah converted 10 of its first 18 possessions and the Jazz jumped to a 22-11 lead.
They remained in control most of the way, although the Suns rallied from a 77-55 deficit in the third quarter.
Phoenix used a 19-2 run to put pressure on the Jazz and get within 79-74. But Paul Millsap’s jumper with 4:29 left and Al Jefferson’s six points in the final 3:43 helped ice the victory.
“We weren’t executing, and we didn’t get any stops,” Millsap said. “They came down and got layups. ... We just didn’t play good defense and let them come back in the game.”
Asked about the Jazz’s inability to bury the Suns when they had the chance, Tinsley said, “That’s basketball. Sometimes shots don’t go in. They weren’t going in for a while and their [shots] were going in.”
Tinsley finished 0-for-3 from the field but, given those 14 assists, nobody was too worried.
“Whatever they need from me, I try to go out and do my best,” he said. “Just play hard and, on the court or off the court, help other guys get ready for the game. ... Just control what you can control.”
Storylines Jazz 94, Suns 81
R Paul Millsap and Gordon Hayward score 18 points as the Jazz win their third straight home game.