It took us a little while to get going and we did it with our defense. A 10-point second quarter . . . that’s who we are. —Jazz coach Quin Snyder
PHOENIX — Only a half hour earlier, Houston and Dallas had wrapped up Sunday afternoon victories and now the Utah Jazz were down 10 points midway through the first quarter to the Phoenix Suns, one of the NBA’s worst teams. A loss was simply unacceptable if the Jazz wanted to keep pace in the competitive race for the Western Conference’s final playoff spots.
Coach Quin Snyder exhorted his team to “keep playing” and read his team the riot act during one early “spirited timeout” as he put it.
Soon the Jazz starting making baskets and playing their patented defensive style and a couple of hours later when the Jazz were easy 101-86 winners, you almost forgot what all the worry was about.
The victory moved the Jazz above .500 for the first time since early November as they improved to 39-38 and into a tie with the Mavericks for seventh place in the Western Conference, a game ahead of the Rockets.
Even though it was against the 20-57 Suns, Snyder called the game at Talking Stick Resort Arena a “tough” one because it was earlier than usual (3 p.m. local time tipoff) and because it was against a team the Jazz could easily overlook since they beat them by 34 points just a couple of weeks earlier in Salt Lake.
However, after digging themselves an early hole, the Jazz turned up their defense a notch and starting making baskets in a 30-10 second quarter that decided the game for all intents and purposes.
“It took us a little while to get going and we did it with our defense,” Snyder said. “A 10-point second quarter . . . that’s who we are.”
Each of the Jazz’s main guys stepped up at some point Sunday as Gordon Hayward led the scoring with 22 points, Derrick Favors scored 17 points, after coming off a knee injury last week, and Rodney Hood rebounded from a horrid start to score 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting from 3-point range.
Trey Lyles had another effective game off the bench, scoring 13 points, and Rudy Gobert had his best scoring effort in awhile with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
However, the two players Snyder talked about most afterward were a couple of guys who each played about a third of the game and finished with five and four points, respectively — Chris Johnson and Trevor Booker.
“I think both Chris Johnson and Book came in the game and gave us a lift,’’ he said. “We needed more energy and more juice and our whole team responded and picked it up.”
“We started a little sluggish and that’s where I come into play, just coming off the bench and bringing my energy,” said Booker. “I was just going out there and communicating and talking and getting everybody alert. We’ve been down before and we knew if we picked up the pace we could get back in the game.”
From the 10:29 mark to the 0:59 mark of the second quarter, the Jazz outscored the Suns 24-2 and held them to a measly pair of free throws in 19 possessions. That gave the Jazz a 46-33 halftime lead and although they briefly let the Suns back in the game early in the third, the Jazz had little trouble the rest of the way.
Phoenix received a great game from veteran center Tyson Chandler, who finished with 21 points and 18 rebounds, five on the offensive glass. Mirza Teletovic scored 24 off the bench and PJ Ticker and Devin Booker each scored 14.
The Jazz had one of their more efficient games with 27 assists and only 10 turnovers, but Snyder wasn’t happy about being outrebounded 45-33.
Next up for the Jazz are a couple of home games against two of the best teams in the Western Conference, San Antonio on Tuesday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.
While the Jazz are looking over their shoulders at Dallas (39-38) and Houston (38-39), they’re mostly trying to take care of their own business and not worry about the others.
“You can make yourself crazy following other teams,’’ said Snyder. “That’s the way it is right now and we just have to try to take care of the things we can control.”