Deseret News
Utah Jazz guard Raul Neto (25) shoots during the game against the Orlando Magic at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY – It wasn’t like Raul Neto had never been in the starting lineup for the Utah Jazz before. But it was the first time in nearly three years, since April of 2016 as a rookie, when he started 53 games for a young Jazz team.

Neto didn’t exactly light things on fire Wednesday night in his 30-minute performance as he missed all five of his 3-point tries, made a couple of turnovers and had just three assists.

However, he came up with a solid overall floor game, played strong defense and came up with three straight baskets late in the third quarter when the Jazz were making a run that gave them their first lead of the night.

Neto also finished with a plus-22 for the night, the best of any player on the floor, meaning the Jazz were 22 points better than their opponent when he was on the floor.

“He was engaged, that’s what we expect from Raul,” said Quin Snyder after the game. “He didn’t shoot (well), he didn’t make a three, but they were all right there. It just shows how a player can impact a game even if they’re not making shots and he kind of epitomized that tonight with his play, particularly his defense.”

Neto started the game because both Ricky Rubio and Dante Exum, point guards ahead of him in the Jazz rotation, are both out with injuries. Exum went out with a sprained ankle Saturday night in Detroit, while Rubio went down in the first five minutes of Monday’s loss in Milwaukee with a hamstring injury.

That left it up to Neto to take over point guard duties like he had in the 2015-16 season when he took over for Trey Burke midway through the season.

" He was engaged, that’s what we expect from Raul. He didn’t shoot (well), he didn’t make a three, but they were all right there. It just shows how a player can impact a game even if they’re not making shots and he kind of epitomized that tonight with his play. "
Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder

“I’ve been doing that for a long time,” Neto said of starting. “It’s the mindset of always working and knowing your body. When you’re not playing you have to get extra work so you can stay ready physically and mentally. Of course it’s not the way I wanted, I didn’t want my teammates to get injured for me to get minutes but it is what it is. It feels good to be out there playing.”

Neto got off to a slow start and scored just two points in the first half on a pair of free throws with a couple of assists and rebounds.

He came alive in the third quarter when he hit four of his five shots, including three big buckets in the final 2:19 to put the Jazz on top.

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First Neto hit an 8-foot floater in the lane and then drove all the way after a Magic turnover for a layup to make it 76-75, Utah’s first lead of the night. After getting called for an offensive foul on the next possession, Neto came back with a nice drive down the left side, laying the ball in with his left hand to give the Jazz a 78-75 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

“To go from not playing to starting was huge,” said Donovan Mitchell. “He was pushing the break when he takes it upon himself to be aggressive, that’s huge for us.”

“He’s a good player,” said Snyder. “I’m very proud of the improvement Raul’s made since he’s been here. Raul is someone you feel grateful as a coach that you have him on your side.”