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With Ingles pointing the way, Jazz pull away late to hand Phoenix a 118-97 defeat

Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles winks at Jazz fans in the front row after making a 3-pointer against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of an NBA basketball Wednesday, April 3, 2019, in Phoenix. The Jazz won 118-97. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Phoenix • It helps to have your own personal cheering section.

That’s what Joe Ingles had in enemy territory on Wednesday night, with a group of four Jazz fans in the front row of Talking Stick Resort Arena. With the game somewhat close down the stretch, Ingles hit two 3-point shots directly in front of those adoring fans, then pointed to them as he ran back down the court.

Those were two of the biggest shots in the 19-3 run that sealed a 118-97 Jazz victory, six points that contributed to a season-high 27 points for Ingles.

It wasn’t always that easy, though. For whatever reason, it appears Phoenix and healthy players don’t mix well.

The Jazz started the game with five players out due to injury. Dante Exum’s the long-term one, while Derrick Favors and Kyle Korver missed their second consecutive games due to their nagging back and knee issues. Jae Crowder went from probable to unable to play due to a right quad contusion, and Ricky Rubio was a late scratch due to hamstring tightness.

That meant an oddball starting five featuring Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Joe Ingles, Thabo Sefolosha and Rudy Gobert, and the results weren’t pretty: The West-worst Suns got out to a 10-0 lead on the Jazz, who seemed to be sleepwalking through the first few minutes.

But just then, worst case scenario struck for the Suns: Devin Booker badly sprained his ankle going for a pass. A foul was called, but Booker couldn’t even attempt the free throws afterward, meaning he was ineligible to return to the game. Booker joined a Phoenix injured list that already included rookie sensation DeAndre Ayton, Tyler Johnson, T.J. Warren and Kelly Oubre.

“Our intensity didn’t drop when Book went out,” Mitchell said. “We kept the focus and urgency. We knew they were going to play us tough, and it’s hard to beat the same team three times like this. It shows our resiliency.”

The injuries set the stage for an unlikely matchup: Grayson Allen and Jimmer Fredette going head to head, guarding each other and using possessions frequently on both ends of the floor. It was Allen who won that battle, though, scoring a career-high 14 points, though he picked up five turnovers in the game.

Still, his teammates and coaches were impressed by the performance.

“I thought he did a great job on the defensive end. He really threw himself into it and competed,” Quin Snyder said. “He let the game come to him offensively. It showed a lot of poise. … His experience in the [G League] really helped him.”

A second quarter run led by Ingles wrested control of the game back to the Jazz. Ingles was on fire, scoring 17 first-half points on only seven shots, including going 4 of 4 from deep. That entertained the crowd, which featured more than just a few Jazz fans in attendance.

The second half was back-and-forth, with the Jazz maintaining the lead at all times. It’d be a stretch to say the Jazz’s healthy players always played well, but they did enough to keep the Suns at bay at key stretches: Gobert had a few key blocks scattered throughout — good for five overall — and bench players such as Georges Niang and Raul Neto played well enough to keep the Jazz alive when the stars were out.

It was really Mitchell and Ingles’ shotmaking, though, that stood out the most. Mitchell hit consecutive threes in the third, then in the fourth, drilled a deep shot, late in the 24-second clock, while being fouled. The four-point play again kept the Jazz afloat. With 4:40 left, Mitchell hit a three to give the Jazz a double-digit lead again. He finished with a game-high 29 points.

Add Mitchell’s scoring to Ingles finding his own personal sweet spot, and it was too much for the Suns.

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