When you shoot close to 60% for most of the game, a victory should come easily, right?
The Jazz shot extremely well Friday night. But the win sure was difficult to come by.
After surrendering a game-long advantage and letting Washington take the lead in the game’s final 3 minutes, Utah got enough big plays down the stretch — a Rudy Gobert layup-and-one, a Gobert block on the other end, a Ricky Rubio 3-pointer, a Donovan Mitchell floater that rolled around the rim twice before dropping in — to hold off the Wizards, 128-124 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The victory was the Jazz’s fourth in a row and ninth in 10 games, and improved their record to 46-30 on the season.
Mitchell shook off a first-quarter eye injury to lead Utah with 35 points on 13-for-23 shooting. He added five assists and five rebounds. Rudy Gobert contributed 13 points, 17 rebounds, and five blocks, while Joe Ingles had 18 points, 10 assists, and five rebounds.
“We haven’t been in close games, so it was good for us to feel that,” said coach Quin Snyder. “But we don’t want to be in close games at the expense of our transition defense and defending in general.”
It’s not hard to see how that posed a problem on this occasion.
Washington scored 30 or more points in three of the game’s quarters, and tallied 28 in the other. The Wizards shot 49 percent from the field, and made 15 total 3-pointers — at a 40.5% clip. They also total 20 fast break points.
After the Jazz took a 15-point lead in the third, All-Star guard Bradley Beal kept the Wizards in it in the period, scoring 11 of his 34 points. And big man Bobby Portis had eight of his 28 in the fourth (he hit 6 of 12 from deep for the game) to keep Washington within range.
Indeed, a double-team on Mitchell led to a deflected steal and a jumper by Beal to give the Wizards the lead at 116-114 with 3:03 left in the game.
The Jazz, though, responded with a 10-2 run that included all those aforementioned clutch plays to hang on. After Jabari Parker nailed a last-ditch trey to close the gap to two points, Mitchell closed out the scoring with a pair of free throws for an insurmountable four-point advantage.
Asked about finally breaking through in a close game — the Jazz came in 0-7 in games decided by three or fewer points — Rubio, who totaled 17 points, made a joke about the team usually being too clutch.
“Because when it’s close and we win, we do suuuuch a good job that it [winds up] over three points,” he quipped. “… We have really good chemistry and we know where to go at the end of the game. Tonight was a good game for us. It was a four-point win, right? Doesn’t count as a close win — Donovan should have missed a free throw.”
In fairness, the Jazz were a bit “discombobulated” — as Snyder put it — early in the game thanks to a series of one-after-another injuries.
Mitchell got hit in the eye and headed to the locker room. Derrick Favors exited after just 9 minutes and 16 seconds of action due to back spasms, and didn’t return. And while Mitchell was returning to the court, he crossed paths with backup point guard Raul Neto, who was exiting to get stitches in his lip, and would later check out for good with concussion-like symptoms.
Jae Crowder stepped up off the bench — drilling 6 of 7 shots, including 4 of 5 from deep — to total 18 points. And reserve big man Ekpe Udoh earned praise for holding down the fort in Favors’ absence to give Gobert an occasional break.
All of that — combined with the Jazz hitting 55.2% of their shots overall and 43.8% of their deep attempts — added up to a victory in the end.
And if it came a little harder than expected, well, after a run of relatively easy victories against lottery-bound teams, maybe a tough game wasn’t the worst thing in the world this close to the playoffs.
“Take a positive wherever you can get ’em,” said reserve forward Kyle Korver. “I think it’s good at this time of the season for us to have a game where we’re down with a couple minutes left and we’ve gotta figure out how to get good shots, and make good decisions.”
JAZZ 128, WIZARDS 124
• Despite shooting 55.2 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from deep, the Jazz need a series of clutch plays down the stretch to rally in the final 3 minutes.
• Donovan Mitchell bounces back from a first-quarter eye injury to shoot 13 of 23 en route to 35 points, five rebounds, and five assists.
• Derrick Favors exits early with back spasms, and Raul Neto departs with stitches in his lip and concussion-like symptoms, scrambling the rotation.