Suns put up tough fight before falling to Utah for 7th loss in a row
SALT LAKE CITY -- Stepping up in the fourth quarter is becoming natural for the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz survived another close game on Wednesday, pulling out a 107-97 victory over the Phoenix Suns for their 11th straight win after making the right plays at the right time on both ends of the court in the closing minutes.
Utah allowed just one basket over the final 2:40. On the other end, the Jazz hit four of five shots to turn a one-possession game into a double-digit victory.
"When it's the fourth quarter and it's time to win, everyone is focused and everyone trusts each other even more," center Rudy Gobert said. "At the end of the game, we make the right play on both ends and usually we end up winning the game because we trust each other."
Donovan Mitchell scored 24 points and Royce O'Neale had a career-high 19 for the Jazz. Derrick Favors had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Gobert added 14 points and 17 rebounds. Mitchell and Joe Ingles each had six assists.
Jae Crowder, who scored 12 of his 15 points during the fourth quarter, played a pivotal role in helping the Jazz pull away.
Phoenix took a 75-74 lead early in the fourth quarter on back-to-back baskets from Marquese Chriss and Josh Jackson. Crowder got to the line on two straight possessions to fuel an 8-0 run that put Utah back in front 85-77.
Later, the Suns cut it to 98-95 on a 3-pointer from Elfrid Payton. Crowder went to work again. He answered the basket with back-to-back layups to give the Jazz a 102-95 lead with 1:58 left.
"Just understanding the game is one of the biggest things with him," Mitchell said. "He communicates with us and he's been great to play with. He's working hard to learn all the plays."
Devin Booker returned from a hip injury to lead the Suns with 28 points. Jackson added 22 points, and Payton had 13 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. Phoenix has lost seven straight.
Utah had a 54-41 rebounding advantage and a 52-40 edge in points in the paint.
"Our competitiveness was at a high level through the whole game," Payton said. "They made a run and we were able to combat that and stop the bleeding. That's something I haven't seen in the last two games for the most part."
Jackson and O'Neale took turns dominating on offense in the second quarter. O'Neale had nine points in the quarter, and Jackson had eight.
Jackson's four baskets early in the quarter helped the Suns stick with the Jazz. O'Neale took over late in the quarter, scoring four baskets in the final 3:44 before halftime. He capped it off with a buzzer-beating step-back jumper that gave Utah a 50-41 halftime lead.
The Suns rallied again in the third quarter and went ahead 60-59 on a basket from Alex Len. Mitchell answered with a go-ahead 3-pointer on the other end and eventually put the Jazz back ahead 70-62 on a step-back jumper from the rookie.
"We knew it would be a tough game, and it was," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "Fortunately, we made some plays that we needed to make to win the game."
Wednesday's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which claimed the lives of 17 people, weighed heavily on Mitchell's mind. The Jazz rookie wrote "Pray for Parkland" on the back of his sneakers before tipoff.
Mitchell's mother is a nursery teacher.
"My prayers go out to all those families, man," Mitchell said. "It's tough. It's crazy. We definitely got to do something about it. We talk about it and there's a lot of awareness of it, but there's nothing done."
After only three games, Phoenix appears to be a good fit for Payton. The fourth-year guard notched his ninth career triple-double. Since Phoenix acquired him from Orlando, Payton has averaged 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists.
Suns coach Jay Triano said Payton has revitalized the team, even if it isn't showing up in the win column yet.
"The guy has started a lot of games in the league, knows how to play the position," Triano said. "He can get in the paint. He's got a great mid-range game. Makes other players on the floor around him better. That's something we've been looking for."
Suns: Booker returned to the lineup after missing four games with a left hip contusion. ... Jackson scored 20 plus points for the eighth time in the last 19 games. ... The Suns outscored the Jazz 31-19 in bench points.
Jazz: Ricky Rubio (hip) did not play for a third straight game. .... Mitchell has led Utah in scoring during its 11-game winning streak, averaging 21.3 points. He's the first rookie to accomplish that feat since Wilt Chamberlain in 1959-60.
Suns: Host Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 23.