SALT LAKE CITY – Members of the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns didn’t want to overstate their bout on Wednesday. They claim they don’t pay much attention to the standings and claim that it’s just another game.
Chris Paul checked the game with two minutes remaining in the third quarter, and he never returned to the bench. If anyone shows how Wednesday night’s game is different, it is. It’s not a regular season rotation; no, that’s what he’s going to do when the postseason starts.
The playoffs feel like they come a little early on Wednesday. It was a heavyweight fight between the top two teams in the league – and they played like that.
Donovan Mitchell might have had the biggest shot of the night, but the Suns won.
Phoenix survived Mitchell’s 41-point night, including a 3-point effort that tied the match at the end of the rules, to a 117-113 overtime win at the Phoenix Suns Arena.
“It’s good to be in a match like this, of course, you hope it will be the other way around,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “But I think this is the kind of game you want, you want to feel what it’s like to be in it, you want to find out how you can win it.”
Call it a training ground for the postseason. Every mistake is magnified – poor read, missed rebound, missed shot. But neither did each game – and nothing more than Mitchell’s late-game shot.
With the Jazz three behind in regulation, Mitchell pushed the ball in transition and made a 25-foot 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining. It was a shot that nearly completed a major turnaround.
The Jazz were bad enough in the first half and only collected 40 points in the first half, shooting 17 of 49 overall, including 3 of 21 from 3 points range. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder the Jazz was only able to score four assists in the first 24 minutes.
This is a testament to how good Jazz can be because they weren’t completely out of the game at that point. They were only 11 behind in the first half thanks to a superb defensive performance.
The second half provided the playoff atmosphere everyone was expecting.
Utah scored 38 points in the quarter as the Jazz bounced back to take the lead in record time. Primary catalyst: Mitchell.
Mitchell scored 28 points after halftime as he wanted the Jazz back in the game.
“He’s competitive and he’s confident,” said Snyder.
3 didn’t fall, so MItchell used a variety of moves to get to the ring. He was 6 out of 8 in the paint after halftime. The Jazz shooters provided more range, making room for Mitchell to operate inside. That finally opened up the rest of Jazz’s offense, with Utah doing 8-of-19 in the second half (the Jazz cooled down again in the extra-time period, though).
But the Suns have an answer: Paul has 29 points and nine assists and Devin Booker has 35 points. And it was both of them who took over the game in extra time as the Jazz were once again struggling to score.
It helps because Phoenix is also taller than Jazz.
The Suns overtook Utah 61-45 – and one possession late in the fourth quarter highlighted Utah’s struggles.
The Jazz went one up with less than three minutes remaining, and had three offensive rebounds. Booker missed; Jae Crowder gets the offensive rebound. Booker fails again; Deandre Ayton gets the offensive board. Paul missed; Ayton tips. Jazz will never lead again.
“It hurts us, especially when we play a good defense,” said Rudy Gobert, who had 18 rebounds to leave 16 points. “We can force it to miss, and then they get possession again. Those guys are pretty good if you give them extra treasure, they’ll make the most of it.”
In a game akin to a playoff, the Jazz learn a few things about themselves. Offenses can be a little too dependent on the 3s and can get stuck in the isolation game and they give up too many offensive boards.
“We treat this match like a playoff game. We are doing everything we want to do,” said Ayton.
But it also expresses goodness for Utah: Jazz can take a hit and crawl back – even when they don’t burn the nets from the inside. Bojan Bogdanovic only scored 1 of 8 from deep but found a way to score 20 points. But, as he points out, it is difficult to win the game when a team known for their 3-point shots achieves a 25% clip.
Oh, and the Mitchell guy is pretty good.
“He’s had another great game so I’m sorry that we as a team didn’t do better, and got that W for him,” said Bogdanovic.
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