SALT LAKE CITY — Enough is enough. The Utah Jazz aren’t having it.
The disrespect will no longer be tolerated — especially not in Vivint Arena.
Teams are learning the hard way. Phoenix was the latest to find out.
In addition to suffering a 28-point beatdown Thursday night, the Suns also left Salt Lake City with a reminder that the Jazz are no pushovers.
The beautiful mountain views and laid-back Mormon culture don’t take away the fact that the Jazz are one of the league’s hottest teams, winning eight straight and 20 of their last 22 games, while currently sitting in seventh place on the Western Conference standings.
“This is a problem because part of it for our team is when these things happen, and they happen multiple times, it becomes cumulative for us,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “So, another team, they move on to the next game, and then we play the next time and it happens again with another team. And then it happens to us again with another team. There is a point where you stop recognizing that it is a different team. It just keeps happening.”
What Snyder is referring to happened midway through the third quarter as tempers flared against Phoenix.
It started with a goofy airballed dunk attempt by Suns forward Marquese Chriss, which resulted in him landing on the floor awkwardly. Then, Jazz guard Ricky Rubio jumped over him to get the ball out and push it up the court only to be leveled with a flagrant foul type 2 from Jared Dudley, followed by a blindside push by Chriss once he jumped up to approach Dudley.
Rubio’s Jazz teammates Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell immediately rushed to his defense as mayhem erupted.
“I was running on offense, I turned around and Ricky (Rubio) was on the floor,” Gobert said. “Then he stood up and I think I saw Marquese Chriss push him down, so I just rushed over there.”
Chriss and Dudley would both get ejected as Mitchell and Ingles were also hit with technical fouls.
“Two cheap shots for no reason,” Mitchell said. “Jae (Crowder) was pretty much the only one there against Minnesota when it happened, so I think it’s better that we all had (Ricky Rubio’s) back when it happened, we were all there for him. It was cheap. It’s crazy how just because you’re all down by 25 ... it’s all right.”
Mitchell was right.
A similar incident happened two weeks earlier in a chippy win against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, March 2. In the end, the Jazz won 116-108 at home, but three players were ejected, five technical fouls were assessed plus a Flagrant 2 foul.
The common thread? Rubio.
Timberwolves guard Jeff Teague was hit with a Flagrant 2 late in the fourth for charging at Rubio out of frustration and Crowder rushed to his defense, even standing up to Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, before ultimately being ejected then going at injured All-Star Jimmy Butler via Twitter.
Crowder has infused his toughness into this Utah squad since being acquired from Cleveland before the trade deadline, which trickles down to his teammates. Rubio may seem like the weakest link physically, but the Spaniard floor general can be a firecracker at times, even if he doesn’t want to elaborate on the situation.
"I’m not going to talk about the fight for anybody," Rubio told reporters afterward. "I’m not going to talk about the fight. Don’t ask me about this (crap). OK?"
Rubio may not want to talk about the altercation, but the NBA is certainly paying attention. The scuffle made its rounds all over social media as the Jazz are now in the national spotlight with a 20-2 record since Jan. 24.
Dante Exum has finally returned from his left shoulder injury, Crowder is embracing his role as enforcer, and Gobert has the Jazz locking down defensively with a league-best 94.5 defensive rating over this 22-game stretch.
Even legendary Public Enemy front man Chuck D tweeted that “Nobody wants to face @utahjazz”.
NBA teams may want to take note that the Jazz aren’t to be messed with.
This team isn’t soft.
“Guys are going to have each other’s backs and where that goes, when it gets like that, you never know what happens. But it’s cumulative,” Snyder said. “Those guys in the locker room, like every team, there is a camaraderie and a sense of brotherhood and they are going to defend each other. When these things continue to happen, one, someone’s health is at risk.”