Gobert helps Jazz hold off Bulls 102-98 at Chicago’s United Center

Utah Jazz guard Emmanuel Mudiay, left, and Chicago Bulls guard Kris Dunn battle for the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Chicago • The 8-0 run the Jazz surrendered at the end of the second quarter to go into halftime down four should have snapped them out of their funk. It didn’t.

The 7-0 run they surrendered to start the third to go down 11 points sure seemed to, though.

Faced with the prospect of a young, struggling, sub-.500 foe running them out of the building, the Jazz responded with some urgency, and Rudy Gobert in particular demonstrated some defensive mastery, pushing Utah to a 102-98 victory at the United Center.

“First game of the road trip, right after the new year, down 11, it’s easy to chalk it up and say, ‘We’ll go be ready for Orlando,’ but we stuck in it, fought back, and continued to play,” noted guard Donovan Mitchell.

And as a result, the Jazz earned their fourth straight win and their ninth in their past 10 games to improve to 22-12 on the season.

All it took was some of their most efficient basketball of the season, plus another immaculate performance from the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

After the Jazz went down by 11, they both ratcheted up their defensive effort and improved their precision on the attack. Gobert shutting down every Chicago foray into the paint, and Utah drilling 11 of 15 shots in the third period produced a 12-0 run to re-take the lead.

Mitchell spark the offense early, nailing a couple of twisting, contorting jumpers. Georges Niang sustained it later, spotting up beyond the arc, waiting for the inevitable rotation off of him, and calmly sinking his 3-point attempts.

“We’re really jelling right now, so it feels good to be out there and be comfortable, and really playing well together,” Niang said. “That’s the biggest thing for us. It’s something that you feel out there, when you’re clicking on all cylinders.”

Meanwhile, with Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Coby White repeatedly testing Gobert on drives to the rim, and repeatedly missing as a result, Utah surrendered only 19 points in the quarter (after yielding 29 in the period before).

Not that it was smooth sailing from there.

With Gobert out for a roughly six-minute break, the Bulls cut into the lead a little, though backup Tony Bradley mostly did a solid job protecting the paint, and even scoring a bit on sly little slip-screen actions with Joe Ingles.

Then, a 7-0 Chicago run — as Utah’s ball movement largely stalled — made things uncomfortably close again. A subsequent 8-0 run later tied it.

Forward Bojan Bogdanovic, who had struggled to that point, naturally proved clutch yet again, snapping out of his funk at precisely the right time.

With his 3s not falling, he resorted to bully-ball post-ups over the smaller LaVine, and either converted short-range turnarounds, or drew trips to the free-throw line. He wound up scoring 10 of his team-high 19 points in the fourth — juuuust enough to make the difference.

“I just tried to be aggressive,” Bogdanovic said. “[It wasn’t working] from the 3-point line, so I tried to find the rhythm down low, tried to go to that post and take that.”

And then, as always, some solid defensive play by Gobert sealed the deal.

With the Bulls within 100-98 and a chance to tie, LaVine tried to test him once more. And yet again, Gobert’s long arms forced a miss. Mitchell’s ensuing free throws finally put the game away. Gobert then swatted one more LaVine layup try, just for good measure.

“We knew that they were a very aggressive team, especially Zach, so I just had to do what I do and be there for my teammates,” Gobert said simply.

His teammates weren’t having that.

“He’s huge every single game for just his presence in the paint,” Bogdanovic said. “It’s big. Whoever’s coming into the paint, he’s changing every single shot.”

Mitchell was even more emphatic.

“He’s playing like a dominant force,” he said. “… When he’s decisive, he just goes up there and tries to punish people on both ends, and turns into the All-Star that he is.”

Gobert wound up with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks. Mitchell added 17 points and seven assists. Jordan Clarkson and Niang had 12 and 11 off the bench, respectively. Ingles scored just eight points, but had 10 assists vs. only two turnovers. Bradley contributed seven boards off the bench.