SALT LAKE CITY — There wasn’t much doubt about the outcome of Thursday night’s game at Vivint Arena between a Utah Jazz team that had won 19 of its last 21 games against a Phoenix Suns team that had lost 21 of its last 23.
That was pretty much decided midway through the second quarter when the Jazz broke away from a tight game and quickly put some permanent distance between them and the Suns.
Still, there was plenty of excitement for Jazz faithful at Vivint Arena. How about Donovan Mitchell flying in for a couple of dunks and making a Michael Jordan-esque move on a drive to the basket, Rudy Gobert scoring over 20 points — again — Joe Ingles heating up from long range, Dante Exum returning after five months on the injured list, not to mention a giant brouhaha midway through the third quarter that resulted in a pair of ejections and two technical fouls.
In the end, the Jazz came away with a 116-88 victory, which raised their record to 39-30 as they kept pace in the tight Western Division standings.
Mitchell led a balanced Jazz attack that saw five players score in double figures, with 23 points including his spectacular right hand-to left-hand switch in mid-air-for-a-basket in the fourth quarter.
Gobert kept up his strong offensive play of late with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting and 13 rebounds for his 24th double-double of the season, Ingles finished with 17 points, including four 3-pointers, Jae Crowder contributed 15 points and eight rebounds off the bench and Ricky Rubio had 12 points and tied his season high with 11 assists.
Afterward, coach Quin Snyder called it a “discombobulated” game partly because of the third-quarter skirmish that delayed play for more than 10 minutes and resulted in the Suns’ Marquese Chriss and Jared Dudley being ejected from the game and Mitchell and Ingles getting whistled with technicals.
Before going on a long tirade about the "cumulative" effect of his team getting knocked around, Snyder was happy to talk about Dante Exum, who saw his first action since early October and played 14 minutes, scoring 10 points and handing out a couple of assists.
“I thought he did a good job,” Snyder said. “I thought he was concentrating on the right things. He got back, played defense and looked for his spots to push the ball to the rim. He did a really good job. It was good to see him out there.”
Exum entered the game after a timeout at the 1:16 mark of the first quarter to a huge ovation from the Vivint Arena crowd accompanied by the “Welcome Back, Kotter” theme song.
Exum had a chance at an assist less than 10 seconds after entering the game, but Derrick Favors’ shot came up short. He got his first point by making the second of two free throws with 8.8 seconds left in the quarter and made his first basket on a layup early in the second quarter.
Late in the third quarter, the crowd held its breath when Exum went flying down the lane, was upended and landed hard on the ground. An offensive foul was called on Exum, but the good news is, he got right up and shook it off and kept playing.
Afterward Exum called it “a good starting point” and added, “I can get better from here.”
Of the fall, Exum said, “I told you guys this morning that I’ve been learning to fall. I don’t want to put myself at risk anymore, so hopefully I can be smarter and kind of realize when I’ve got adrenaline pumping, just to make the smart play.“
For Phoenix, which dropped to 19-51 on the season, T.J. Warren led the way with 19 points, while rookie Josh Jackson scored 17 and Devin Booker added 12 on 3-of-18 shooting. For the night the Suns shot just 38.6 percent from the field.