SALT LAKE CITY — The first game of the second half of the season is sometimes considered a fresh start for NBA teams, but for quite some time on Wednesday night against the Orlando Magic at Vivint Arena, the Utah Jazz displayed a number of bad habits they’d regularly shown during their first 41 contests.
Back at home after a four-game road trip, the Jazz didn’t defend early, which led to Orlando gaining confidence to make both open looks and tough shots, and then Utah had a hard time scoring. That bad combination led to the Jazz trailing by as many as 21 points early, and 19 as late as the opening minutes of the third quarter.
But then Utah started playing like the team that closed last season 29-6 and made the second round of the playoffs, as defense keyed a 25-3 run over the last 8:43 of the third frame and then the Jazz allowed just 18 points in the fourth quarter en route to a 106-93 victory.
In all, the Magic scored just 30 points in the second half as they started missing shots they made early and lost their fourth straight game.
“I thought we looked a little uncertain for a minute there, (but) more than that, this group, what they did given the fact that we were down and the way we started, is pretty impressive,” Utah head coach Quin Snyder said. “This is a heck of a win for our team. Everybody, just the way we came back and battled."
With the victory, the Jazz moved back to .500 on the season with a 21-21 record. Donovan Mitchell led the charge with 33 points and seven assists on the night. Twenty-two of his points came in the second half, including the first two of the big run and the final two of the night.
Four of his assists also came in the final two quarters as Utah played its first game without both Ricky Rubio and Dante Exum, who each is expected to miss a few weeks because of injuries.
“They came out ready to compete,” Mitchell said of the Magic in the early going. “Unfortunately we didn’t match their energy, but I think the way we locked in, we came and we made a little run in the second (quarter) and we realized if we just keep defending we’ll have a shot at the end.”
Defend the Jazz did. Orlando shot 52 percent in the first half but finished the night at just a 40 percent clip. Having shot 9 of 14 from behind the 3-point line in the first half, the Magic went just 4 of 19 in the second. Down 8-2 in second-chance points at halftime, Utah won the category 13-11.
“We turned our mentality into getting stops, and from that point on letting our defense dictate our tempo of the offense,” said Jae Crowder. “Once we got into those guys and made it tough, we got some momentum on the offensive end and shots were able to fall and guys started getting comfortable.”
The Jazz led by three entering the fourth quarter, but Orlando stayed close as Utah’s lead was just two at 90-88 with 4:26 remaining before Mitchell started to take over. The second-year guard either scored or assisted the Jazz’s next four baskets as they went on a 10-1 run to take a 100-89 lead with 2:38 to go, and the Magic didn’t mount a rally from there.3 comments on this story
“I think it was probably his best game this year finding his teammates and he was making the right decisions,” said Rudy Gobert. “When he does that, we’re really hard to defend.”
Mitchell left a charge for himself and his teammates as Utah continues on in the fight toward a playoff berth.
“We’ve got to stay locked in like this for the rest of the year,” he said. “We can’t have any slip-ups, and I think we feel that.”
The Jazz will play the second game of their homestand on Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, who will be without LeBron James as he continues to deal with a groin injury he suffered on Christmas Day.