Kelly Oubre Jr. opened the scoring for the Suns with a direct challenge of Rudy Gobert in the paint. Oubre nailed a tough floater, a great sign after Gobert firmly won that battle during these teams’ meeting back in November. Oubre won’t be afraid to challenge anyone, but he’s also best when he sees a few go in.
In general, the Suns did a great job early combating Utah’s tough defense by moving the ball intelligently and finding openings. Devin Booker found Deandre Ayton for an easy dunk to put the Suns up, 12-7, a few minutes into the opening period.
The teamwork transferred to defense as well. Despite the attention Gobert draws rolling to the rim and the overall play-making talent on the Jazz roster, Phoenix’s rotations were crisp to prevent shots at the rim.
If it weren’t for a couple deep threes by Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles, the Jazz would have been in a pretty deep hole to start the game.
Instead, Utah stayed close at 16-11 midway through the first.
Elie Okobo was the first guard to make an appearance in this one. With two-dozen games left, it’s time to face the fact that the backup guard rotation will be jumbled every night.
After Utah struggled to take care of the ball early, the turnover bug bit the Suns later in the first, and those mistakes led to back-to-back threes for Mitchell as Utah took a 19-16 lead.
More turnovers to close out the half for the Suns, as even Booker succumbed to second-guessing when Gobert stepped into his path. The Suns tallied six turnovers in the first period — three from Booker — after averaging 17 and 19 in each of the past two games.
With Ayton in foul trouble, the Suns opened the second period taking advantage of Baynes’ skill set after he hit a three in Gobert’s face in the first:
Baynes cleaned up a Ricky Rubio layup to open the quarter, then made his presence felt defensively, though Utah certainly got a home-team whistle a couple times.
Despite Baynes look a little better in this one, it was smart of Monty Williams to put Ayton back in the game right when Gobert sat. The Suns were able to attack the rim consistently, including a nice lob from Rubio to Ayton.
(I don’t know why FSAZ just randomly tags corporate accounts in their tweets, it’s some sort of weird sponsorship thing — just ignore it.)
It’s always hard when these teams play not to latch onto the Booker vs. Mitchell narrative, and Mitchell definitely outplayed Booker in the first half. Booker had four turnovers and three personal fouls, while Mitchell started out hot shooting the ball before flashing his high-level passing once the Suns adjusted. Mitchell scored 18 in the first half.
Monty Williams even took Booker out of the game to close the half after Booker picked up his third foul. I think that was more of a way for Booker to cool off than Williams actually being concerned Booker would pick up another foul. The Suns closed with the Ayton, Rubio and three wings lineup Williams rode heavily back in December.
The teams were tied at 62 at the half.
Ayton picked up his third and fourth fouls in the first minute of the second half.
Facing his former team, Rubio was energized all night. After a few nice dimes in the third period, Rubio had 17 points and 10 assists when he checked out with 5:12 to go.
A moment later, Booker picked up his fourth foul. Mikal Bridges was also at four, leaving the Suns in desperation mode to close out the quarter and protect their starters from further foul trouble.
At that point, the Jazz had 35 free-throw attempts to the Suns’ 18.
With Ayton on the bench, Dario Saric filled in momentarily at center (probably his best position on this roster) and hit a big three as part of a sudden barrage that put the Suns up 10 with 2:03 left in the third. The other two triples came from Cameron Johnson and Jevon Carter, a huge boost from a bench that has been massively inconsistent all season.
To that point, the Suns had only taken nine threes, but those three straight makes left them at 8-12 from deep, a big advantage against Utah, the best three-point shooting team in the NBA.
The Suns also drastically reduced the turnovers after the first quarter. After six in the opening frame, they had just seven the rest of the way, and their ball movement was excellent.
A nice Saric pass set up Carter’s second three, while a cutting Johnson created an open opportunity for Oubre to dunk in Gobert’s face (and get called for a technical foul) after his signature head shake.
OH MY GOD OUBRE GOT GOBERT AGAIN!! pic.twitter.com/GM9KRMVqYo— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) February 25, 2020
Mitchell responded with five quick points to bring the Jazz back within 15. That’s about as close as it ever got for Utah in the fourth quarter, as the Suns put the clamps down, kept turning the Jazz over, and took their starters out after a Booker three put Phoenix up 22.
The Suns closed it out with the bench to win, 131-111.