When you compete, sometimes you make good stuff happen and it doesn’t always go your way, but it went our way tonight. —Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Could there have been a much worse situation for the Utah Jazz to be in than they were Wednesday night against the Washington Wizards?
Not only were they playing an angry Wizards team vowing to get back for their 47-point embarrassment last month in Utah, but starting center Derrick Favors had joined the list of injured Jazz players because of a sprained ankle earlier in the week. On top of that, leading scorer Donovan Mitchell was in foul trouble most of the night and second-leading scorer Rodney Hood was ejected in the third quarter with his second technical foul and unavailable for the final 14 minutes of the game.
But this rag-tag bunch of Jazzmen that included players such as Ekpe Udoh, Royce O’Neale and Jonas Jerebko, each of whom has sat out several games this season even while healthy, came through with a clutch 107-104 victory over the Wizards, who were playing at full strength.
The implausible victory at the Capital One Center was reminiscent of another road game last month in Boston when the Jazz knocked off the East’s best team after both Gobert and Favors had left the game with injuries. In fact, this was the first road victory for the Jazz since that equally improbable victory nearly a month ago.
Quin Snyder said it came down to defense, of course. The Jazz were active all night, forcing 23 turnovers with 15 coming on steals, and they came up with a key stop against the Wizards’ top scorer in the final seconds on a broken defensive assignment of all things.
“I thought tonight we got stops defensively when we needed to,” Snyder said. “It’s a group of guys that have a lot of character. When you compete, sometimes you make good stuff happen and it doesn’t always go your way, but it went our way tonight.”
He also couldn’t say enough about Udoh, O’Neale and Jerebko, who were key cogs in the victory.
“Ekpe was terrific,” Snyder said. “His activity defensively was (great). Jonas hadn’t played in a couple of game, but his rim-running, something as simple as hustling and running to the rim really opening things up for us. Obviously I have confidence in Royce O’Neale . . . and I thought he gave us a big lift tonight.”
Udoh, who was playing in Europe last year at this time, came up with season highs of 16 points, nine rebounds and four steals, while playing a season-high 34 minutes. Jerebko started after not at all on the road trip and came up with nine points four rebounds and a steal.
O’Neale, who was the last player to make the squad back in October. The Baylor product scored 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field and grabbed four rebounds and played solid defense.
“Everybody had to be able to step up to play tonight,” said O’Neale. “Everybody contributed and it was a team effort.”
Then there was the oft-maligned Rick Rubio, who came through with one of his best performances of the season, scoring 21 points, including a huge 3-pointer in the final minutes, and coming up with three steals in a good defensive effort. He said the team learned from the frustrating loss in Miami Sunday afternoon.
“It’s tough but we had a close game in Miami and we learned from that,” he said. "We know that on offense you can make or miss shots, but on defense you can make stops at the end. I think we did it tonight and that’s why we got the win.”
Mitchell scored 16 points, but struggled shooting, making just 7 of 20, including 2 of 10 from 3-point range. He came up with the big stop at the end, forcing Bradley Beal to pull back on his shot when he came flying in with his long, outstretched arm.
Before the game, Scott Brooks had talked about how “embarrassed” the whole Wizards organization had been about the 47-point loss in Utah and how his team had practiced well with two straight days of practice for the first time in over a month. But the extra motivation and extra practice didn’t help against a fired-up Jazz team.
“We have not had that type of turnover game in a long time," Brooks said of his team’s 23 miscues. “They did a good job of putting their hands on us and we turned the ball over too many times.”
The Wizards jumped out early, taking a 32-25 lead after one quarter, thanks to 70 percent shooting on 14 of 20 from the field. The Jazz could have folded at that point, but stuck around and closed the gap to 50-46 at halftime.
A 37-27 edge in the third quarter, thanks to a 16-5 run to end the quarter, put the Jazz up 83-77. They pushed the lead to nine, only to see the Wizards creep back and re-take the lead at 99-98 on a Kelly Oubre 3-pointer with 2:28 left.
Then Rubio hit a 3-pointer from the right corner, only to have John Wall answer with a 3-pointer. Then it was Joe Ingles’ turn with 1:08 left to make it 104-102.
Both teams missed shots and then it came down to Joe Johnson at the free-throw line. Johnson made two to make it 106-102, but Oubre scored inside to cut it to two. Then Johnson made one of two, setting up the final sequence, ending when Beal couldn’t get his shot off.
The Jazz conclude their road trip Friday night with a game at Charlotte, which fell to 15-24 with a loss to Dallas Wednesday night.