Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz survived yet another late-game run to score a surprisingly hard-fought win against the Phoenix Suns.
The Utah Jazz finished off a back-to-back set on Tuesday with a home game against the Phoenix Suns. And while it probably won’t do much to improve the stress level of Jazz fans, they followed the same recipe for success that worked for them in their previous two wins.
Start strong, build a big lead in the third, blow said lead in the fourth, then hang on by the skin of their teeth in the end.
The Jazz sprinted out to a 17-6 lead at the midway point of the first quarter. In reference to Rudy Gobert’s strong play to start the game, Matt Harpring informed us brilliantly that “you can’t teach 7-foot-1.” Later, Joe Johnson made a beautiful three-pointer to put the Jazz up by 16.
During this stretch, Phoenix Suns rookie Dragan Bender made some nice plays on defense but one can see he is still adjusting to the overwhelmingly fast pace of the NBA game.
Soon thereafter, Exum would get in on the action with a beautiful runner for a layup that just kissed off the glass. At the end of the first quarter, Utah held a 33-19 advantage. Midway through the second quarter, the Jazz offense slowed a touch and Phoenix looked to be making their push to close the gap before halftime.
However, Utah was able to withstand it and took a 20-point lead into the locker room at the break.
During that first half, it was great to see Johnson and Rodney Hood spelling each other off as it really seemed to help the team’s flow and cohesiveness. Johnson has apparently been a great mentor for Hood and it appears that Rodney is really taking on Joe’s clutch mentality, a fact that was especially noticeable in some of Hood’s big shots last night before leaving with a hamstring injury.
Another notable occurrence in the first half came when Gordon Hayward tied Jeff Hornacek (and then passed him) for points as a Jazzman. Nicely done Gordon! For more on Hayward’s ride from Jazz lottery pick to the elite scorer he is today, check out this great piece by Spencer Wixom, a Purple and Blues alum.
With the Jazz coming out of halftime with the big lead, Devin Booker started hitting a few shots to prevent the Suns from being completely blown out and kept the game within 20 points shortly after the Jazz lead had ballooned to 21.
But his efforts wouldn’t be enough in the third, as midway through the quarter Hayward already had 18 points and the Jazz appeared to be clicking on all cylinders. One of the most standout plays of the quarter came when Boris Diaw had a nice little entry pass to Hayward that ended in a layup after Hayward deftly defeated Booker’s defense on the play.
Gobert was also spectacular throughout the game. It’s impossible to not get excited when watching how expressive heis on the court and his excitement and reactions make it immediately apparent that he’s French. He wears his passion on his sleeve as so many Frenchman do when they compete, but a lot of it has to do with his age as well.
While the Suns could have easily given up with the Jazz up big in the third quarter, give credit to Earl Watson for keeping his guys engaged. He convinced them to work and attempt to chip away at the lead the Jazz had built and slowly but surely they clawed their way to within… oh wait they were still down 15 with 5:32 left in the quarter… hmm.
But it wouldn’t be long after that point that the Suns started to make a real comeback bid. Some of the Suns comeback can be attributed to a few easy transition buckets, but for the most part the Jazz made them work for almost everything they got.
The Suns also benefited from Hayward’s momentary absence following a scary moment when he appeared to have re-injured his finger and was taken back to the locker room.
One of the things that can’t be talked about enough is how Hayward has brought out the best things about his game and they’re all coming together this season. His three-point shooting has been coming on strong and he’s now in mid-season form.
But due partly to his departure, the Jazz ended up giving up 30 points in the third quarter. All of a sudden the Suns shooters came alive and their shots started to fall, allowing them to build some momentum. Yet at that point it wasn’t catastrophic as the Jazz put up 29 points of their own. The third quarter has typically been their strongest quarter offensively and that seemed to hold true tonight.
Yet in the fourth quarter, the lead waned and the Jazz started to falter a bit down the stretch. The Suns battled back to get within 11 points around the seven-minute mark and eventually would cut the lead down to two after Tyson Chandler uncharacteristically made two late free throws. Later the Suns would tie the game at 103 with just a few minutes remaining.
Matt Harpring had it right when he said the Suns started playing more loose at the end. Everything seemed to be opening up for them after Alex Len fouled out and the Jazz triggered Lawler’s Law.
With Hood leaving mid-game after aggravating the hurt hamstring the offense hinged completely on Hayward, which led to some sloppy play as Hayward was forced at times to do too much. The game ended with both teams fouling quite a bit, including a questionable foul call on Diaw that facilitated Phoenix tying the game.
After that point both teams struggled to score for about a minute, but Shelvin had a nice late game steal to help put the Jazz up by two and they never looked back from there.
After the Suns failed to score the Jazz continued to execute on offense with Shelvin making one of his trademark floaters running to the rim. At that point, the Suns had to foul just to stay in the game with the Jazz trying to bleed the clock dry. The Suns did eventually score but only after the Jazz had built their lead to 109-103.
After a final push from the Suns, the final score ended up 112-105 with Rudy Gobert putting the explanation point on the game and icing this win with a beautiful dunk off a lob pass. He also did a great job hitting most of his free throws down the stretch. It seems like Rudy has some Karl Malone free throw improvement voodoo from Louisiana. Must be that French Cajun connection. Not to mention, Gobert also scored a career high 22 points!