PHOENIX — Minutes before the start of Wednesday night’s game, the Utah Jazz learned that starting guard Ricky Rubio wouldn’t be playing because of “right hamstring tightness.” No big deal except that an hour earlier, fill-in starter Jae Crowder was declared out with a quad injury and usual starter Derrick Favors was already out with back spasms, while sixth-man Kyle Korver was out with a sore knee.
Good thing the Jazz were playing the team with the second-worst record in the NBA, a team they had already beaten by an average of 26 points in three games this year and one that lost their best player, the guy who had poured in 59 against them a week earlier, midway through the first quarter with an ankle sprain.
So despite playing with discombobulated lineups all night long and using players who had hardly played all season, the Jazz were able to grind out a 118-97 victory over the Phoenix Suns, for their 11th win in their last 12 games.
The Jazz improved to a 48-30 on the season and stayed in fifth place in the Western Conference, a couple of games behind Portland, which also won Wednesday night. Houston’s victory over the L.A. Clippers put the Jazz a game and a half up on the Clips.
Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 29 points, Joe Ingles tied his career high with 27 points and Rudy Gobert had his 63rd double-double of the season, setting a Jazz record, with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Three players off the bench finished in double figures as Grayson Allen came up with 14 points, Georges Niang had 11 and Raul Neto 10.
Playing with a makeshift starting lineup that had only played together a handful of minutes all season, the Jazz started horribly, falling behind 10-0 and 17-4. However, this was the Suns after all, and when Devin Booker, who had 59 against the Jazz in Salt Lake last week, went down with what looked to be a badly sprained ankle soon after, the Jazz were going to be just fine.
They tied the score at 33 early in the second quarter and took their first lead on three free throws by Mitchell a few minutes later. By halftime it was 56-53 and the Jazz extended the lead to 84-76.
They finally seemed to break away in the fourth quarter, going up 99-86 before the pesky Suns scored eight straight points to pull within five. But Gobert made a pair of free throws and Mitchell and Ingles sank 3-pointers to push the lead back to 13 at 107-94, and the Jazz finished the game on a 19-3 run that made it look like more of a rout than it really was.
“It’s next man up,” said Mitchell. “We’ve been saying it for two years now, every game you can see it and it’s more prevalent games like this with Georges (Niang) stepping up, Grayson stepping up, Raul, Joe having a great night — you look at Ekpe (Udoh) blitzing the pick-and-roll, doing his thing. Our intensity didn’t drop when Booker went out but we kept the same focus and same urgency. It just shows our resiliency.”
The Suns were playing without rookie star Deandre Ayton, who sat out with a left ankle sprain, and they were already missing T.J. Warren, Kelly Oubre and Tyler Johnson, who had all started games this year. Instead the Suns were playing with a bunch of guys you’ve never heard of, such as Richaun Holmes, De’Anthony Melton and Ray Spalding. However, they still hung in there for most of the night until the Jazz put them away in the fourth quarter.
Holmes led the way with 16 points while point guard Elie Okobo scored 15, Josh Jackson had 12 and former BYU star Jimmer Fredette scored 10 points in 22 minutes off the bench.2 comments on this story
“I’m proud of our guys, the way we’re competing,” said Phoenix coach and former Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov, who saw his team fall to 18-61 on the season. “We played a very, very wise and smart team. We couldn’t score the last five minutes of the game and they did, so it’s tough.”
Jazz return home to play Sacramento Friday night and then finish up the season with three games in four nights, at the Lakers on Sunday, at home against Denver on Tuesday and at the L.A. Clippers on Wednesday. The playoffs will start either Saturday or Sunday.