With the playoffs quickly approaching, both the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns rested key players on Wednesday night ahead of their Friday night matchup in Salt Lake City.
The Jazz (48-32), playing without Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley Jr. and Royce O’Neale, breezed to a 137-101 home win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Suns (63-17) found themselves down by 39 points to the Clippers in the third quarter, with Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder all sitting out. The Phoenix subs then made a furious rally, scoring 48 points in the fourth quarter to pull within four late in regulation before the Suns fell 113-109.
“It’s a great lesson for our team and any kid watching: You just play it out,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We just stayed with it and had that Suns grit.”
The NBA-leading Suns, who have the most wins in franchise history, already have clinched the top seed and home-court advantage in the playoffs, so small victories in a harmless loss can be worthwhile.
Cameron Payne was the only starter in double figures for the Suns, with 13 points. Ish Wainright scored a career-best 20, Bismack Biyombo contributed 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Aaron Holiday scored 16.
With two games left, the Jazz have clinched a playoff berth and are in the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference. They are two games behind fourth-place Dallas and one game ahead of sixth-place Denver.
Utah received nice contributions from a variety of players Wednesday, from their consistent sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic (27 points) to the rookie they picked up in the second round last summer, Jared Butler. Though Butler had a rough shooting night, hitting just 3 of 13 shots from the field, he had 10 assists, three steals and seven points.
In addition, Danuel House Jr. scored 14 points as a fill-in starter, and Rudy Gay battled for 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 26 minutes. Veterans Rudy Gobert (20 points, 10 rebounds), Hassan Whiteside (15 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks) and Jordan Clarkson (18 points, 10 assists) each recorded double-doubles.
“We’re locking in at another level, mentally and physically,” Whiteside said.
The Jazz have made it tougher on themselves this season with some team chemistry issues. After losing six of seven games, their foundering performances resulted in a hold-nothing-back players meeting, The Athletic reported.
Gobert appreciated how players opened up and talked.
“That’s what was great about it,” he said. “I think a lot of teams have those (meetings). It’s man to man. It’s great. We all need that, whether it’s your wife or your teammates or your friends, sometimes. It’s great to just express yourself. I think everyone felt like — we all felt like — we need to talk. We know, obviously, there’s always going to be teams and people in the media trying to divide us.”
Ultimately, Gobert said the team — particularly him and Mitchell — need to work together to have success, regardless of outside noise about their players and coaches or imperfect relationships.
“I think we both realize that it’s about helping each other out and embracing the moment,” Gobert said. “If we do that, we know that good things will happen. … If the trust is there, you’re in great shape. And that’s what we pretty much told each other.”
–Field Level Media