Phoenix • It looked like it was happening again.
After costly losses to New Orleans and Memphis the last week, the Jazz could ill afford to drop a game to the Western Conference-worst Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night. And yet, there they were, struggling to take command at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Unlike in those games, though, adversity didn’t prove too much this time. Trailing with 3 1/2 minutes gone minutes in the second quarter? They closed it on a 22-8 run. All of a 14-point third-quarter lead squandered before the period was over? They responded with a 10-2 run to take command once more.
It wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t matter — all of the aforementioned added up to Utah picking up a suddenly crucial 114-97 victory.
Coming in having lost two in a row and three of four to fall to eighth place in the Western Conference playoff race, it didn’t really matter how they arrived at the win so much as that they simply got it.
“It was really important for us to go out there and make a statement,” said Donovan Mitchell. “They obviously went on their run, but we played good defense, we moved the ball tremendously on offense, and if we keep playing that way, we should be good.”
Mitchell led a balanced scoring effort with 26 points, while Rudy Gobert had a dominant performance down low, contributing 18 points and 20 rebounds. Derrick Favors also had a big all-around effort, totaling 18 points, seven rebounds and a career-high-tying seven assists.
They had to earn every bit of it. For while the Suns came in with only 16 wins on the season, they were also playing their best basketball of the season, having won five of seven, including a victory over West-leading Golden State.
And so, Utah found itself down 35-31 with 7:45 left in the second quarter. Then the defense finally kicked into high gear. All those drives into the lane? Shut down. Those previously open 3-point looks? Contested and clanking off the rim.
Phoenix wound up shooting 6 for 21 in the period, and the Jazz took a 10-point advantage into the break.
The lead reached 14 in the third, but the momentum wouldn’t last. Phoenix wound up shooting 11 for 19 over the 12-minute span, and rallied all the way back to tie the game at 75-all.
Rather than sulk, though, the Jazz simply responded.
Joe Ingles drained a 3 before the quarter’s end. Favors began the fourth with an alley-oop from Ingles. Jae Crowder hit a jumper. And then Ingles nailed another trey for a 10-2 run to reassert control.
“In both those segments, we didn’t give ’em anything easy,” said coach Quin Snyder. “And we were able to attack and convert. I thought we were just more connected on offense.”
The Suns never seriously threatened again, and Utah pulled away in the game’s final minutes.
Ingles wound up contributing 15 points and six assists. Crowder had 12 points off the bench. The Jazz also dominated on the boards, winning the rebounding battle 52-35, which limited Phoenix to just two second-chance points.
Devin Booker led the Suns with 27 points and six assists. But No. 1 overall draft pick DeAndre Ayton struggled against Gobert and Favors, making only 1 of 9 shots for two points and nine rebounds.
“The way Rudy and Fav responded to the last couple games; our bigs have been solid all year long, and they raised their level tonight,” said Snyder. “The points in the paint, their finishing; I thought they did an excellent job defensively, coming over and impacting shots without fouling. So, a good night for those guys.”
The win was the Jazz’s fifth straight against the Suns. More importantly, it improved the team to 38-29 on the season, and pushed Utah a half-game ahead of the idle Clippers into seventh place in the Western Conference playoff race.
Asked if there was an added sense of urgency after having slipped down the standings, Gobert grinned.
“I think a little bit. I mean, I hope! We thought were doing well, but all of a sudden we were eighth,” he said. “We don’t want to think about that, but sometimes it’s good to see that. It can go very fast, if we lose our edge or we stop doing what we’ve been doing.”
The Jazz now move on to the second half of a back-to-back, as they host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday at Vivint Smart Home Arena.