Washington • It took some time, but Rudy Gobert figured the Wizards out.
Sure, the Jazz didn’t have leading scorer Donovan Mitchell, thanks to illness. And yes, they spotted the Wizards a 15-point lead. But once Gobert flipped the switch, he and his teammates dominated proceedings, coming all the way back and getting out of D.C. with a 127-116 victory — Utah’s ninth straight win.
With the way the Jazz started the game, it looked like they weren’t notified of the early 1:30 p.m. MST tip. The Jazz got beat in nearly every possible way early in the game: repeated backdoor cuts, transition attacks at the rim, and Wizards mid-range pull-ups. The result: giving up 66 points in the first half, one of their worst defensive halves of the season and certainly one it seemed they had eliminated from their play in recent weeks.
One factor that kept the Jazz close, though, was the scoring of Bojan Bogdanovic. The Wizards kept going under on screens, but Bogdanovic didn’t take advantage by shooting, instead getting all the way to the rim. There, he made the kind of flippy easy shots that he’s struggled with a little bit in recent weeks; his 22-point first-half performance was just about all the Jazz had going for them early.
“Bojan is one of the all-around best wing players that I’ve coached. The way he plays, the way he’s been, he was great for us and he’s great for them,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “The way he plays, he’s hard to guard. He moves, he’s smart, he’s a high IQ basketball player that plays hard every night.”
But the Jazz came back with a vengeance in the third quarter, led by Gobert. After a passive first half, Gobert stepped up higher in the pick and roll, meaning Wizards ballhandlers like Bradley Beal had to get by him or find a pass. The Jazz’s perimeter defense held strong, too, and the Jazz went on a 21-3 run to turn a 15-point Wizards lead into a 3-point Jazz one in the blink of an eye.
“Coach just came in the locker room at halftime and made an adjustment,” Emmanuel Mudiay said. “They were hitting a lot of comfortable mid-range shots, so we just went back to our principles and made Rudy a presence. That changed a lot.”
Gobert played the entire third, so it looked like the Wizards might have a reprieve in the fourth period. But the Jazz’s bench responded well, especially Jordan Clarkson, who attacked the Wizards defense to get to the rim repeatedly. Clarkson finished with 23 points in the game, eight in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps nerves were most frayed when Gobert picked up his fifth foul, with over 6 minutes to go. Then, backup center Tony Bradley had to come in against the Wizards’ starters, and it didn’t go quite as well. Quin Snyder called for Gobert to come in almost as soon as he subbed him out, and the lead was cut to just two possessions.
But coming back into the game, once again, Gobert made an impact, with big putbacks and rebounds. On one play, Bogdanovic forced up a late-shot-clock airball, but Gobert was there to turn the sure zero points into two easy ones. While the Wizards got within 3, Jazz scoring never let them get any closer than that, and the Jazz ran away with the game in the final two minutes.
Four Jazz players scored 20 or more: Bogdanovic, Clarkson, Gobert and Joe Ingles. Bogdanovic led the way with 31.
Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 25 points in his first game back from injury; Davis Bertans scored 18 off the bench for the Wizards.
It’s now nine straight wins for the Jazz, and 14 of their last 15 contests have ended in W’s. They face Brooklyn on Tuesday.