With it being Autism Awareness Night at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Wednesday, Jazz forward Joe Ingles — whose son Jacob was diagnosed earlier this year — was understandably fired up.
A bit too much, apparently, for referee Ray Acosta, who issued the Aussie a technical foul late in the second quarter. Jazz coach Quin Snyder responded by calling a timeout to draw up a play for Ingles to curl around a screen and fire up a corner 3 — which he hit, of course.
The forward capped an emotional day by just missing the first triple-double of his career (and the team’s first in the regular season in more than 11 years), as the Jazz held off the undermanned-but-surprisingly sparky Lakers 115-100.
Ingles finished with 11 points, 14 assists, and nine rebounds, checking out with 2:27 to go — a rebound shy, but up more than 20 points — and got a big embrace from coach Quin Snyder. The crowd, fully aware of the near-milestone, issued mock boos, and followed with chants of “We want Joe! We want Joe!” while equally-aware teammates tried in vain to convince him to remain on the court.
“There was no chance. It’s not me, it’s not our team. ... I’ve never played for that reason, and I never will,” Ingles said. “If it happened during the game, great. We can all cheer and ... I don’t know what I’d do. Nothing, probably. Just move on.”
Jae Crowder in particular attempted to strong-arm Ingles into staying out there, but ultimately deferred, knowing it was not his style to chase personal achievements.
“Obviously, coach is not too big on stats, but we felt like it was a special night for Joe, and to top it off with a triple-double would have been even more special for him,” Crowder said. “But Joe don’t care! He was like, ‘I’m sitting down. Are we winning? I’m good. I’m not going back in the game.’ So, once a player says that, you gotta respect it.”
With the win, Utah improved to 45-30 on the season and reduced its magic number for clinching a playoff spot to one.
But, as has been the case with the Jazz of late, it took them a bit to finally assert control and put away an inferior opponent. Given that L.A. was without star LeBron James, starters Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, plus rotation regulars Josh Hart, Reggie Bullock, Tyson Chandler, and Mike Muscala, Utah’s players perhaps figured this victory might not require too much effort or efficiency.
In spite of the Lakers fielding a second-quarter lineup that featured veteran forward Lance Stephenson and four guys named … ummmmm … Mo Wagner, Johnathan Williams, Scott Machado, and Alex Caruso, they seemed to surprise the lethargic Jazz by crawling to within 44-40 early in the period.
That seemed to get Utah’s attention.
Rudy Gobert responded with a dunk and Thabo Sefolosha followed with a triple to generate some breathing room. Then came Ingles’ post-tech trey, after which he added another bucket.
The half closed on an emphatic note when Donovan Mitchell spied a wide-open path down the lane, spun past Stephenson, elevated, and threw down a filthy one-hander over late-arriving big man JaVale McGee.
After the break, Utah came out focused, engaged, and ready to end the nonsense. A 23-10 spurt to open the third period expanded the advantage to 83-63.
“Starting and finishing quarters [is] something we have talked about. It shows progress on how focused we were mentally as a group,” Snyder said. “… We had some breakdowns later defensively, but during that time we got stops and we’re able to run.”
Despite some of those late lapses, at that point it was all over but for the Ingles triple-double watch. After his strong first half, however, he seemed mostly content in the second to rack up the assists — where he established a new career-high.
He did drain a late 3-pointer to get him into double-digit scoring, but only managed two second-half boards when he needed three.
“I tried to let him get as many rebounds as I could,” Gobert joked. “Unfortunately, he didn’t get the last one.”
Gobert scored a team-high 22 points and chipped in 11 rebounds, while Derrick Favors added to the inside dominance with 20 points and six boards. Crowder had 16 off the bench. Mitchell (11) and Ricky Rubio (10) were also in double-figures.
The Lakers, meanwhile struggled to get anyone other than ex-University of Utah star Kyle Kuzma and center McGee going. The former Ute totaled 21 points — including a pair of banked-in first-quarter 3-pointers — while McGee turned in a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
But Rajon Rondo shot 1 for 11. Stephenson was 3 for 11. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was just 2 for 9. In all, L.A. wound up connecting on only 38.1 percent of its shots for the game.
The Jazz will now turn their attention to clinching a playoff berth. They’ll be back in action at Vivint Arena on Friday night against the Washington Wizards.
But on Wednesday night, at least, it was all about Ingles and his new favorite cause.
“I was just glad to be able to do something, because I wasn’t sure how I was gonna be out there,” he said. “… I just wanted to win the game and see how much we could raise [in donations to autism charities]. Those were the only goals for me tonight.”