Phoenix, Ariz. • Maybe Rudy Gobert can get a few more nights off than he thought this season.
At the very least, the Utah Jazz won’t mind sitting their star center if the rest of the team can play like it did Monday night without him.
In the first half of their fourth straight preseason win — the half that mattered — the Jazz looked crisp on both ends of the floor. They eventually ran up the score to 120-102 as one would expect from a returning playoff team going against one of the youngest teams in the NBA.
Forcing turnovers on defense and deftly sharing the ball on offense, Utah looked like the team that coach Quin Snyder has envisioned since training camp began, if only for 24 minutes in the preseason. And it all happened with Gobert, the 7-foot-1 centerpiece, wearing sweats while taking a night of rest on the first night of a back-to-back road trip.
“We’re different without Rudy,” Snyder said. “But I think our guys know what we want, and we work at it.”
While most of the Jazz starters made only brief appearances — saving some energy for Tuesday night’s tip against the Los Angeles Lakers — at least one was memorable.
Ricky Rubio, who was consistently off-target in his first three games, shredded the nets from the tip, hitting his first four shots and accounting for all of the Jazz’s first nine pointsy. The new starting point guard was uncannily accurate compared to his career percentages, hitting 8 for 10 on the night from the field, including 2 of 4 on 3-pointers.
His final line was decidedly uncharacteristic: 20 points, no assists in less than 15 minutes.
“I tried to be more aggressive than the games before, look for my shot and get the feeling,” Rubio said. “It’s preseason. I’m trying to get a feeling for how my teammates play, new system, new coach. But at the end of the day, I got to play my game.”
Others on the team helped make up on the passing end, with seven different Jazzmen accounting for at least two assists. But the Suns were most helpful in giving Utah scoring opportunities: Phoenix coughed up 31 turnovers in the game (19 in the first half alone), directly leading to 47 Jazz points.
Plenty of that frustration was caused by active hands on the Jazz defense, which thrived despite not having Gobert to patrol the rim. Joe Ingles had a team-high four steals, all in the first half, while Rubio and Derrick Favors had three each.
Apparently the Jazz don’t need the best shot-blocker in the league to have a respectable defense.
“This team has shown that everyone can guard, not just the ball but on the paint, too,” Rubio said. “I’m pretty happy with the job we had overall.”
The game was also notable for the bursts seen from rookie guard Donovan Mitchell, who recaptured some of his summer league magic that has had fans buzzing since July. He finished with 17 points while also dishing out a team-leading four assists, helping replace some of the playmaking ability that the Jazz lost when Dante Exum went down against the Suns on Friday. He looked equally confident whether firing 3-pointers (2 for 3) or charging at Suns rim protector Tyson Chandler for a layup.
Fellow rookie Tony Bradley also played extended second-half minutes, finishing with 13 points.
Raul Neto also got his most significant run of the preseason. While he can’t replace Exum’s speed and explosiveness, Neto offered a steady hand at point with six points and two assists as the Jazz try to figure out what their post-Exum plan is.
“I think everybody did a good job,” Snyder said. “And that’s the way it’s gonna be, we’re going to have different guys come in and contribute.”
Gobert is expected to return when the Jazz finish their preseason Tuesday at Staples Center against the Lakers.