The Utah Jazz (29-16) finished off a chippy Indiana Pacers (22-21) team that looked both road weary and testy, 109-100. Head coach Nate McMillan and star player Paul George were both tossed in the second half, and the game got closer than it should have. But in the end the good guys prevailed, powered by Indiana’s favorite son George Hill. In the off-season Hill and Jeff Teague were traded for one another (three teamer between the Jazz, Pacers, and Atlanta Hawks that also involved the Jazz’ lotto pick that would turn into Taurean Prince). It was the first time Teague and Hill faced each other since the trade. And Hill ate Teague up — Teague looked respectable in garbage time though. So hey, small victories.
Utah was in the driver’s seat early, pushing first quarter leads of 7-2, 15-7, 23-13, and capped it off with a 34-21 lead off of a Trey Lyles assist on a George Hill three with one second left. George Hill was what Spurs and Pacers fans called “aggressive George Hill” mode tonight. And he attacked all night long, I guess it’s easy to do that when you have the athletic advantage on your defender, and the other team doesn’t have Roy Hibbert -like shot blocker in the middle anymore. (Sorry Myles Turner, I love your outside shooting though.)
Indiana was getting assault from all ends, Derrick Favors was cooking early, Joe Ingles was doing his thing on both ends, and Gordon Hayward was stepping his game up against Paul George. Moreover what hurt Indy was foul trouble. George, Turner, and Al Jefferson all picked up two quick fouls, and this game was a blowout risk.
Of course, as predicted, Indy didn’t fold. C.J. Miles and Monta Ellis came off the bench to settle things down and take some level of advantage off of Utah’s reserves. Alec Burks had a nice night off the bench as well (the most photogenic rebound of all time, someone get that gif please), but Lyles’ continued shooting slump kept Indy around instead of blowing them away. (Lyles went 1/8 overall and 0/4 from deep — these are open shots he was attempting, by the way.)
The Pacers would make it a 10 point game by halftime, and start the third quarter with a bang. Paul George cut the lead down to four, and the Jazz would have to stave Indiana away for the next 20 minutes. They did, thanks to Hill, Hayward, and Gobert doing their things. I will say that Joe Ingles prevented this team from collapse at times with his gritty defense and all-around play (2 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, and one elbow to the teeth).
Thaddeus Young, Paul George, and Jeff Teague would all finish with 19, and Monta Ellis with 15. But this game did not really look in doubt at all in the fourth quarter. Gordon dropped 27, Rudy finished with 19/11, and George Hill ignited for 30 points.
Utah has now improved to 7-4 on the second night of a back to back. That’s amazing. And the team is one win away from 30. The Jazz have the next night off, then play another back to back set, Monday hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder, then Tuesday at the Denver Nuggets. The Denver game will also be the fourth game in five nights. After another night off they will host the Los Angeles Lakers (TNT game where All-Star reserves are announced). That game will be the 5th game in seven nights. Yikes.
But with how this team is closing quarters (and games) out, I’m encouraged and optimistic. Oh, and the Los Angeles Clippers lost tonight so right now the two teams are in a tie for the 4th seed.