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Jazz turn up the defense, top Warriors 108-103 to end two-game losing streak

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) gets tangled up with Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30), in NBA action between Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors, in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018.

Donovan Mitchell played arguably his worst offensive game of the season. Rudy Gobert & Co. played perhaps their best defense this year.

Enough of the latter made up for the former on Wednesday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

The latest down-to-the-wire tilt between the Jazz and Warriors came out in Utah’s favor this time, as the team made a late series of defensive stops and got a pair of clinching free throws from Mitchell in the final seconds for a 108-103 victory.

The win snapped the Jazz’s two-game losing skid and improved the team to 15-17 on the season.

They’ll take it, considering Mitchell shot an abysmal 5 for 26, and backcourtmate Ricky Rubio went 0 of 8 from the field.

This one, though, came down to Utah’s ability to keep the high-powered Warriors in check in the game’s most crucial moments.

Which they did.

“Obviously, it’s no mystery that we don’t want to give those guys open looks and open jump shots,” said coach Quin Snyder. “Our urgency — Rudy getting out to Steph [Curry] in the corner late, a couple situations where guys were alert and aware — you have to have that urgency. … I thought we got more urgent, and that’s what the game calls for, particularly late against the Warriors.”

Most of Golden State’s roster gave a lethargic effort throughout. Curry was the lone exception, as his brilliant second-quarter shooting spurt powered him to a 32-point night. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant (10 of 23 shooting) didn’t find a rhythm until the game’s final minutes, while fellow sharpshooter Klay Thompson (3 of 12) apparently never found one at all.

A back-and-forth game finally started to turn Utah’s way midway through the third period, as Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver exchanged a flurry of 3-pointers (the former finishing 5 for 9 from deep for the game; the latter 4 of 7).

Then, early in the fourth, Mitchell temporarily abandoned the shooting which had abandoned him, and switched — momentarily, anyway — to a playmaking role, delivering a nice pair of passes (to Dante Exum and Derrick Favors, respectively) for fourth-quarter-opening dunks that ballooned Utah’s advantage to 88-80.

Still, you knew the Warriors would make a run, and they did.

A 93-82 Jazz lead was whittled down to 100-98 in a span of 5 minutes, as Durant finally hit a couple jumpers in a row, open lanes to the hoop appeared out of nowhere, and Utah’s offense was reduced to one clanging shot off the rim after another.

But, in the game’s final 3 minutes, the defense came through. Draymond Green sliced through the paint for a layup attempt, only for the long arm of Gobert to block it away. Hands in the passing lanes denying Curry and KD forced the Warriors to settle for a 25-foot try from Alfonso McKinnie, which harmlessly bricked off the rim. Curry missed a 3-pointer. Durant missed a 3-pointer.

The Warriors still had one last try, down 106-103 with 17 seconds left. Again, the Jazz swarmed Curry and Durant, and again the Warriors settled, with Andre Iguodala firing up a 25-footer with 7 seconds to go that looked short and, indeed, came up that way.

“They had to make a 3, and we had to make sure they didn’t get an open one,” said Gobert, who finished with 17 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. “… Guys did a remarkable job being physical, respecting the gameplan. We know it’s the best shooting team in the league, and we did a good job tonight.”

A review of the subsequent scramble for the rebound revealed it to be Utah’s ball with 2.4 seconds remaining.

Mitchell got the inbound, got the foul, got both clinching free throws to go in and got his team a much-needed win.

And that, in his eyes, more than made up for his own poor shooting.

“I think the way we have been playing defense, the way we have been competing, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said. “Tonight, I think all of it came together.”

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