After Friday night’s double-overtime thriller against the Thunder, Saturday night’s game against the Mavericks was bound to be a bit underwhelming by comparison.
Given that they played 58 minutes, then arrived back in Salt Lake City after 2 a.m., and then played for a second consecutive night, the legs were bound to be tired.
Beyond that, after facing one of the premier teams in the league, the follow-up was against a lottery-bound foe which had recently traded most of its best rotation pieces for a guy recovering from an ACL tear. Not only was there no Paul George, no Russell Westbrook, there wasn’t even Luka Doncic, on account of a sore right ankle.
It was predictably ragged, and perhaps uncomfortably close, but in the end, the curb appeal was irrelevant; all that mattered was the result, which the Jazz were perfectly content to have — a 125-109 victory, which ended a two-game slide.
Despite logging a combined 90 minutes against the Thunder, the backcourt tandem of Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio proved sufficiently efficient against an admittedly depleted Dallas guard line. Each hit 8 of 14 shots, and they tallied 25 points apiece, while combining for 11 assists and just two turnovers (none by Rubio).
Jae Crowder contributed 22 points off the bench, while Joe Ingles’ late barrage of 3-pointers propelled him to a line of 18 points, six assists and five rebounds. Rudy Gobert added 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.
The fatigue factor was apparent from the outset, as Utah’s first seven possessions against the Mavs resulted in 1-for-6 shooting and a turnover.
Quite fortuitously, though, a Dallas lineup featuring the likes of Salah Mejri, Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr. and a 40-year-old Dirk Nowitzki (likewise on the second half of a back-to-back set) wasn’t really capable of doing anything about it.
The Jazz’s offense eventually got going, with the team’s overall shooting up to 53 percent by halftime. They also enjoyed a 17-5 advantage in free throws attempted at the break.
Dallas, undermanned as it was, didn’t go away, though. After making just 13 of their first 32 shots, the Mavs followed up by draining seven of the next 10 to hang around, trailing by only three at the break.
The third quarter seemed to indicate the Jazz would finally break free. A 17-5 run to begin the quarter opened up a 15-point advantage with 4:39 left in the period.
Again, though, Dallas refused to go away. Former Jazz lottery pick Trey Burke’s unrepentant green-light-to-shoot performance saw him drop 20 points, getting the Mavericks to within as close as three points.
They never did get any closer.
Every time Dallas seemed on the verge of getting the momentum, the Jazz responded with enough key buckets to balloon the margin and restore some breathing room — an Ingles 3-pointer, a reverse lay-in by Crowder, a dunk from Derrick Favors, another bomb by Ingles.
And so on, and so on, as Utah pulled away down the stretch. Ingles’ fifth trey of the game put the Jazz up 17 with 5:48 to play, and sparked an exodus toward the exits, fans finally confident in the ultimate outcome.
Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Mavs with 21 points, while the potentially retiring Nowitzki nailed a trio of triples en route to 15 points in what may have been his final game in Salt Lake City.
The Jazz are now 33-26 on the season, and won’t take the court again until Wednesday against the Clippers.