The Jazz Sneak Out the Victory Over the Kings

March 19th, 2018 | by David J Smith

All-NBA center Rudy Gobert was the driving force in the fourth quarter for the Utah Jazz. ( Rick Bowmer, AP)

The streak lives to see another day. It was the epitome of a take-whatever-you-can-get victory for the Utah Jazz, but they escaped with the 103-97 W over a young, aggressive and gradually improving Sacramento Kings squad. It was not pretty, but Utah probably does not care what adjective is used to describe it — a win is a win for a team who has been the absolute surprise of the past few months. When the buzzer sounded, the Jazz recorded their ninth consecutive win and found themselves in the fifth spot of the Western Conference Playoff mayhem.

On paper, this was a classic gimme game for Utah. No team has been hotter, handing defeats to their opponents quite convincingly. Conversely, even though the Kings had won five of nine outings, this was still a sub .500 team playing the second half of a back-to-back on the road in front of a raucous Vivint SmartHome Arena crowd. 

But you do not play NBA games on paper. What the Association has taught this writer is this: any team can beat any team on any given night. For much of the evening, it appears Sacramento might play the role of the spoiler. The Kings were fearless from the perimeter, passed the ball fairly well and disrupted the Jazz offense for long spells with a nice defensive effort. But Utah made the plays it needed down the stretch.

Oh, and Rudy Gobert was the best player on the court at the end. The Frenchmen did everything right the last few plays: a tremendous block on Bogdan Bogdanovic; calming sinking two clutch free throws; grabbing an offensive rebound for an emphatic game-sealing dunk. He put his teammates on his shoulders, like the All-NBA center he is. His case for Defensive Player of the Year honors has never been stronger. 

In addition to Gobert’s dominant finish, Jazz rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell did Donovan Mitchell things. While his 3-point shot was not falling, he sliced and diced his way to the hoop and came through with several key baskets and, of course, some highlight reel dunks. Joe Ingles once again flirted with a triple-double and Utah had nice efforts from Derrick Favors, Ricky Rubio and Jae Crowder.

And the end result, Utah continued to what it has done so well the past two months: it found a way to win. It was challenged and it had to grit it out. It eked out a narrow victory, which will prove to be good experience for the Jazz players moving forward. They will learn from this. 

And these same players head into their next game with the Atlanta Hawks as the 5th place team in the incredibly competitive West. Who could have predicted this in January? 

Some additional observations:

Ingles Makes History: Coming into Saturday’s contest, Jazz faithful knew their favorite Aussie small forward could set the franchise record for 3-pointers in a season. Spoiler alert: he did. 179 makes and counting. But it was not just that added his name to the annals of Utah Jazz history; it was that his trey late in the game, off a pass from Crowder, was clutch. Many of his triples this season have been in the fourth quarter. His shooting has become such a needed weapon for Utah. Even earlier this season, there were times Ingles — due to his unselfish nature — would pass on open looks. That changed, much to the benefit of the team. His willingness to let it fly has certainly been a factor during this successful run for the Jazz. Furthermore, it has helped open up more of his game. Because opponents are worried about his deadly shot, it frees up his more frequent drives to the basket, as well as his newfound floater.

Exum game #2: Dante Exum acquitted himself quite well, all things considered, in his season debut. Game number two was less smooth. While he had a few nice assists, he did not move as well and his shot was askew. That said, rustiness was expected. Fans should be patient as he continues to make his way back into game shape. As he has showed in his limited time, the talented Exum can prove to be a valuable change-of-pace player of the bench as Utah finishes up the regular season, even as he works out the kinks. 

Stockton 2.0: David Stockton was one of the stories of the weekend. While he did not play, it felt right having a Stockton on the bench again. He was not needed Saturday, with Rubio managing to play after the Jared Dudley/Marquese Chriss cheap shots. But he is solid insurance to have while Exum acclimates himself and Raul Neto is out injured. 

 

David J Smith

David J Smith

Besides writing for Salt City Hoops, David contributes to the Utah Jazz coverage for the Deseret News and has written for the Utah Jazz website and Hoopsworld.com (now Basketball Insiders). He graduated from BYU and works for LDS Philanthropies. He and his incredibly patient wife, Elizabeth, have some amazing children--four girls and two boys. Voted "Most Likely to Replace Jerry Sloan" in high school.
David J Smith

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