The Utah Jazz beat up on the Phoenix Suns in an unheralded display of both defensive savvy and unselfishness, win 104-99. The game wasn’t as close as the final score, it could have been much worse for Head coach Earl Watson and company (Jay Triano, Tyrone Corbin, Mehmet Okur) had Quin Snyder not elected to go deep into his bench. Utah was already without Alec Burks, and did not suit up starters Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood.
As the game progressed, combo guard Dante Exum sat out the remainder of the game after hyper-extending his knee (he hit it on a chair during the normal sequence of game-play) — but he’s not really hurt. It’s just a precaution. Not long after Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert were done for the night as well.
While so many rotation players didn’t dress or were pulled early, Phoenix couldn’t really capitalize. They tied the game -- even took the lead at one point — but were put to bed shortly after. Whenever the Suns got close, the Jazz would sprint ahead. It wasn’t a consistent effort from the team, there were still 23 turn overs — but many of the ills of the Blazers game were solved.
And it started with Gobert. The bigman is really in synch with Exum, and the two worked in concert with one another — moving on pick and rolls to the perfect spots, and many dunks were had.
Gobert was also able to do crazy things like this in the pick and roll:
It really was his day, as Rudy got to the line a lot, and made Phoenix pay — hitting 13 of 14 shots. Overall his 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks showed that even if your other team has bigs like Tyson Chandler and Alex Len that your team still doesn’t have a Rudy Gobert. And if your team doesn’t have a Rudy Gobert the team that does have won is going to own the paint.
Phoenix’s Achilles Heel seems to be dribble penetration right now, so much of what the Jazz did came from that. One guy who was slicing them to pieces was Dante Exum.
Dante started and really was a force out there on both ends. His quickness and length really gave Devin Booker problems (Booker got cooking only after Dante was done for the night), and with the ball in his hands Exum was a wizard out there. He controlled things. But I honestly have to take this entire game with a grain of salt. Phoenix isn’t good. Against this team our very own Trey Lyles looked like a mix of LeBron James and Glen Rice.
Even bereaved Romeo and back-up center Jeff Withey got into the attack:
Phoenix folded and the Jazz emptied the bench — and eventually the when the game was over (before 48 minutes had expired) it was just garbage time. The score ended up being close because bubble guys for the Suns really kept shooting. But this was a feel-good, wire-to-wire win.
As I had poorly explained elsewhere, Rudy Gobert makes Dante Exum better, and vice versa. We saw evidence of that tonight. Gordon Hayward didn’t have to be amazing tonight, but at times he was. This is a good Utah Jazz team. George Hill and Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto had some great sequences. Hill and Mack-Ops tied for 5 assists each. Still, there are things to improve.
The offense is sloppy. Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw aren’t where they need to be quite yet. And let’s not forget, Phoenix is going to lose a lot of games this year. Losing the Portland, a team that made the playoffs last season — and beating the Suns, a lotto team for a few years from now, do not cancel each other out.
A bigger test will come against the Los Angeles Clippers in LA, the last game of this road trip. I can imagine that Gordon Hayward will get the night off there. But I know Quin Snyder is going to want to see the Jazz romp to a win (a win in the preseason seems to be having the lead at halftime, and withstanding their 3rd quarter rush).
That game will be on Monday the 10th. We may see some cuts before then.