PHOENIX — For the past 48 hours, countless headlines have surfaced throughout the media regarding the Utah Jazz, but most of them weren't related to basketball.
The lifetime ban of Utah County resident Shane Keisel from future Jazz games, following Monday’s verbal altercation with Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook at Vivint Arena, is what became a national trending topic instead.
However, Jazz players put that issue on the back burner on Wednesday to snap their two-game losing streak with a 114-97 victory against the Phoenix Suns.
“We can’t let anything that’s happening outside the court distract us,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert told the Deseret News after dropping 18 points with 20 rebounds versus Phoenix. “It doesn’t mean that we can’t voice our opinion outside the court, but we can’t affect the way we play as a team, especially right now.
“We’ve got guys that understand that and we come in every night with the same mindset.”
Despite possessing the league’s softest remaining strength of schedule, the Jazz entered Talking Stick Resort Arena after dropping three of their previous four games. Utah (38-29) is in seventh place on the Western Conference standings, ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers after the much-needed victory.
Gobert has now logged 20-plus rebounds in three consecutive games, and fellow big man Derrick Favors also added 18 points and seven rebounds while tying his career-high of seven assists.
“The way both Rudy and Fav responded to the last couple games, I thought our bigs have been solid all year long and they raised their level tonight,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “I thought particularly the points in the paint, some of their finishing, I thought they did an excellent job defensively coming over and impacting shots without fouling. So, good night for those guys.”
Jazz star Donovan Mitchell also went off for nine of his team-high 26 points in the fourth quarter to outduel Suns star Devin Booker, who ended with a game-high 27 points, six assists and four rebounds on the night.
Utah was fueled by two huge runs, notably closing the first half 22-8 to lead 53-43 at halftime. Then, another 14-6 run over the last 2:46 of the fourth to seal the victory with 36 points in the final period.
The Jazz have now won five straight games against Phoenix in their series.
“Fourth quarter, we don’t have enough toughness, physicality, discipline, and that cost us the game,” said Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov, a former Jazz assistant.
Kelly Oubre Jr. added 18 points for the Suns and Tyler Johnson finished with 15 points.
Jazz forward Joe Ingles scored 15 points and six assists, while Jae Crowder came off the bench to contribute 12 points.
Ricky Rubio (hip tightness) and Raul Neto (hamstring tightness) also returned to the lineup on minutes restrictions after both missed Monday’s game versus Oklahoma City, to combine for six points and nine assists. It was also Dante Exum’s second game back after missing 25 in a row with a left ankle sprain, but he committed three personal fouls and two turnovers in nine minutes as he looks to regain his rhythm from the time off. That trio of guards hadn’t been on the roster together in more than two months.6 comments on this story
The Jazz will return home for the second game of a back-to-back to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night at Vivint Arena for the first time since the fan incident.
With 15 games remaining, Gobert won’t allow his teammates to get off track as they remain tight-knit even in the wake of the fan controversy.
“Definitely,” Gobert said of the situation uniting the squad. “I feel like we’re already together. We all understand what’s going on and we know it’s not one guy that’s going to take that away from what we do.”