Jazz heat up in fourth quarter, cruise past Magic 109-96

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) passes the ball past Orlando Magic guard Markelle Fultz (20) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Orlando, Fla. • With one open shot after another going off-target, Saturday’s game was slipping away from the Jazz. The looks were there, but the results weren’t, as Donovan Mitchell’s airballed try at the end of the third period dropped the most efficient 3-point shooting team in the league to a meager 8 of 27 from beyond the arc.

And then, in the fourth, Utah’s first possession saw Mitchell bury a 3. Their second possession ended with a made 3 by Georges Niang. Then came another Niang 3. And a third. And then one by Joe Ingles.

Between drilling eight shots from beyond the arc in the period — and dialing in the defense against a tiring Orlando team playing its sixth game in nine nights — the Jazz eventually cruised to a 109-96 victory over the Magic at the Amway Center.

The win was Utah’s fifth straight and 10th in its last 11, which improved the team’s record to 23-12 on the season.

Mitchell finished with 32 points (on 14-of-21 shooting) plus six assists, but was more interested afterward in talking about Niang’s 15 off the bench (on 5 for 8 from deep).

“He came out there hitting shots, making the right reads. He’s a guy that’s not really talked about, but one that should be,” Mitchell said. “He’s a guy that puts in a lot of work. We respect him, we all love him, he brings the same energy every day, good or bad. It’s days like this, when you see him hoop the way he’s been hooping, it’s incredible to see. We love it, I’m happy for him, and I expect more [of this] out of him.”

For his part, Niang said the only thing that was really different in the final period from the preceding ones was “the ball going through the hoop.

“I was just running to my normal spots, and once I hit a couple, guys really started looking for me,” he added. “It felt good to see shots go in, and once you’re in a zone, you just stick to it.”

Indeed, after burying those three in a row, he improbably launched a heat-check attempt on the subsequent possession, finally drawing iron instead of net.

“That was my first one [in the NBA] — that’s why I apologized after I did it,” Niang said, a bit chagrined. “… That was a quick one. Usually that wouldn’t be a shot I would take, but I thought it was going in.”

And actually, that was the attitude that coach Quin Snyder was happy to see.

Told afterward that his players went from 5 of 18 from deep in the first half to 11 of 21 after the break, he responded that, “The biggest thing was we shot 21 3s.

“If you’re getting looks, just don’t hesitate — eventually you’re gonna make some of them,” Snyder added. “If you’re taking good shots, which we got, I’ve got confidence in our guys that they can make plays.”

Which they did early, and again late.

After scoring 33 points in the opening period, Utah managed only 19 in the second, on 8-for-22 shooting. In the third, the Jazz got a little loose with the ball and were slow to recognize Orlando’s defensive adjustments, leading to four turnovers in that quarter alone, after committing just three in the entire first half.

By the fourth quarter, however, the shots were falling, and the defensive intensity went up a notch. As a result, the Jazz outscored the Magic 33-21 in the decisive final period, turning what had been a close game that could have gone wrong into yet another victory.

“We did a good job getting the stops we needed,” said Rudy Gobert, who finished with just eight points, but had 17 rebounds and four assists.

“I told the team: ‘If the defense is solid, you give yourself a chance,’ ” said Snyder. “Eventually some guys got going tonight.”

Like, say, Mitchell and Niang.

Of course, while another 30-plus-point outing from the former seems almost expected at this point (though he claimed this one was special, occurring as it did on his sister’s birthday), he was only too happy to give the credit to his teammate, who he jokingly teased for his cornball, self-aggrandizing, running commentary.

“He talks a lot of trash, too. He talks a lot to get himself going. … Stuff like, ‘I’m unconscious.’ That’s the one thing I heard,” Mitchell said with a smile. “And I’m screaming right there with him too, so I don’t really know what he’s saying!”