SALT LAKE CITY — Don’t let the final score mislead too much.
Yes, the Utah Jazz cruised past the Phoenix Suns 116-88 on Wednesday night at Vivint Arena, but for three quarters, it was anything but a cakewalk for the home team.
After the first 36 minutes of play, Utah led the Suns by just eight, 79-71, despite the fact Phoenix entered the night having lost 11 straight games and was without its top two scorers, Devin Booker and T.J. Warren, because of injury.
Through three quarters, the Jazz had played uninspired for the most part on offense and had allowed the Suns to shoot 47 percent from the field to stay within striking distance. To Phoenix’s credit, it countered Utah’s struggles with urgent play for most of the night.
Finally, though, Utah flexed its muscles and pulled away with good play on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter. It outscored Phoenix 37-17 in the final frame to get the win as Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov made his return to Salt Lake City after being Jazz head coach Quin Snyder’s top assistant for three seasons.
“They play hard,” said Joe Ingles, who finished with 15 points, a career-high 11 assists, three rebounds and a steal. “They play well. Obviously with knowing Igor, we knew they were going to compete and play hard. The end of the third, start of the fourth, we were able to just kind of lock in, make it a bit tougher on them, which obviously we should have tried to do from the start of the game, but they’re a good young team. They fight hard, and with Igor there, they have a future.”
Seven Jazzmen finished in double figures — all five starters plus Royce O’Neale and Jae Crowder off the bench — as Utah moved to 31-24 with the NBA’s annual trade deadline set for Thursday at 1 p.m. MT.
Donovan Mitchell led Utah with 21 points to go along with three rebounds, two assists and a steal, while Phoenix’s Josh Jackson led all scorers with 27 points and had seven assists, five steals and four rebounds.
“Just our intensity, our communication picked up a lot in the second half, and I think that’s what really kind of propelled us to get out in transition,” Mitchell said. “Obviously hitting shots helps, but we were really doing well communicating defensively.”
The Jazz also quit turning the ball over. At halftime, both teams had given the ball away nine times, but Utah finished the night with 16 giveaways, while the Suns had 22, including six in the fourth quarter.
“I thought, really, offensively, we just settled down,” Snyder said. “We made kind of some careless plays where we weren’t able to convert on some good defensive possessions. In the second half we made the extra pass.”
Holding that eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Jazz stretched it to 13 one minute in. The lead grew to 17 at the 8:14 mark and to 20 just over two minutes later.
The Jazz then scored the final five points of the game.
“We made it amongst ourselves ... just to cut back on the turnovers and just take it easy and make it simple on that end of the court,” Crowder said.
Said Kokoskov, who got a standing ovation from the crowd and hugs from former players before tipoff and after the final buzzer: “It’s a 48-minute game. Fourth quarter, we just ran out of gas, didn’t find the energy to keep competing.”
After having three full days off in between last Saturday’s drubbing at the hands of the Houston Rockets and Wednesday night’s contest, the Jazz will get another two full days to rest before facing the San Antonio Spurs this Saturday at Vivint Arena.
That game will have a unique 3 p.m. start, with the NBA’s intention that it be accessible for fans in Europe to watch.