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Slow start doesn’t hinder shorthanded Jazz against Suns

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Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell each scored 20+ points to lead Utah closer to a 50-win season

NBA: Utah Jazz at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

About six minutes into Utah’s final clash with the Suns of the 2018-19 season, things could hardly be worse. A 10-0 start for Phoenix had ballooned into a 13-point lead – 17-4. The Utah Jazz weren’t exactly going to be getting much help in the near future either, with two starters missing (Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors) plus two key bench players (Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver).

Suffice it to say, it appeared the Jazz were somewhat stealthily eyeing the sixth seed in the West and were secretly trying to slide into that spot with a loss to the lowly Suns.

Whether or not such was the case, the combined competitive spirit of Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert — along with several key contributions off the bench — simply would not allow a loss.

Late in the first, Ingles took control of the game through the pick and roll with Rudy Gobert, helping the Jazz close the quarter on a 21-14 run. Then, in the second, he took over scoring-wise and finished the half with 17 points including a perfect 4-for-4 shooting mark from three, leading to a 56-53 halftime advantage for Utah.

The Jazz also caught a break in the form of a Devin Booker injury. The fourth-year shooting guard left the game late in the first quarter having rolled his ankle after landing on Royce O’Neale’s foot. Booker came into Wednesday’s game averaging 45.5 points in his last four outings and 35.5 since March 6. That included a 59-point performance against Utah on March 25.

“You hate to see anybody go down,” Quin Snyder said of Booker who scored eight points in just eight minutes. “He had gotten off to a quick start as well.”

Ingles tied a season and career high with 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting overall and 6-of-8 from beyond the arc. Mitchell led all scorers with 29 points, 20 of which came in the second half. The two combined to add 14 assists and 10 rebounds. Gobert added 17 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks, notching his 63rd double-double of the season.

With four main rotation players out, Snyder had to reach deep into his bench, giving significant minutes to Georges Niang (27), Grayson Allen (19) and Ekpe Udoh (12). All three delivered, as did Raul Neto. Niang, Allen and Neto each scored in double figures, and while Udoh failed to reach that same mark, he played very well in his 12 minutes with six points, seven rebounds, four assists and a pair of blocks.

“We’ve always had a next man up mentality and we did that tonight,” Niang said adding that “Everybody on this organization is instilling confidence in every single one of these guys to know that when their opportunity comes, they’ll be ready to take control of the situation and make things happen.”

“Next man up, we’ve been saying it for years now,” Mitchell said, “and every game now you see it’s more prevalent.”

Allen’s bench performance in particular drew considerable attention from the media, who asked several players and coach Snyder about the rookie’s night. Despite the Duke product putting up a career-best 14 points, the message that came through loud and clear was how important Allen’s performance on the defensive end was.

“I think it was his best defensive game,” Gobert said. He was chasing down the shooters and was able to recover and had the big block and after the block he got a contest on the three. That’s the kind of thing that I think are going to allow him to stay on the floor.”

The win keeps the Jazz in the solidly in the fifth seed, a game and a half ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers who lost to the Rockets on Wednesday 135-103. Utah remains two games behind Portland with four games left in the season.