SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Love was in the air on Valentine’s Day, and so were Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz.
Mitchell scored 24 points, while fellow rookie Royce O’Neale added a career-high 19, as the Jazz ran their winning streak to 11 games with a 107-97 over Phoenix.
Derrick Favors had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Rudy Gobert added 14 points and 17 rebounds. Mitchell and Joe Ingles each had six assists.
Mitchell is the first rookie in NBA history to lead his team in scoring during a winning streak of 11 games or longer.
Jae Crowder added 15 points and 7 rebounds, and still has not lost in a Jazz uniform. But he has been especially impressed by the play of Utah’s two rookies, Mitchell and O’Neale.
“Big time basketball right now,” Crowder said. “Royce, his energy and playmaking ability is big for us. Donovan is doing a great job of playmaking as well.”
“We knew it was going to be a physical game,” Gobert said. “These guys have lost a lot of games by a lot of points, and we knew it was going to be a pride game for them and it was.”
Devin Booker returned from a hip injury to lead the Suns with 28 points. Josh Jackson added 22 points, and Elfrid Payton had a triple-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. Phoenix has lost seven straight.
Utah had a 54-41 rebounding advantage and a 52-40 edge in points in the paint.
“We knew it would be a tough game, and it was,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Fortunately, we made some plays that we needed to make to win the game.”
Jackson’s four baskets early in the quarter helped the Suns stick with the Jazz. Phoenix tied it at 36 after he cut to the basket, first for a layup and then a dunk, on back-to-back possessions. Then O’Neale took over late in the quarter, scoring four baskets in the final 3:44 before halftime. He capped it off with a buzzer-beating step-back jumper that gave Utah a 50-41 halftime lead.
The Suns rallied again in the third quarter and went ahead 60-59 on a basket from Alex Len. Mitchell answered with a go-ahead 3-pointer on the other end and eventually put the Jazz back ahead 70-62 on a step-back jumper from the rookie.
Phoenix pulled ahead one more time early in the fourth quarter, taking a 75-74 lead on back-to-back baskets from Marquese Chriss and Jackson. Jae Crowder got to the line on two straight possessions to fuel an 8-0 run that put Utah back in front 85-77.
The Suns cut it to 98-95 on a 3-pointer from Payton, but Crowder answered with back-to-back layups to give the Jazz a 102-95 lead with 1:58 left.
The Jazz improve to 30-28 on the season, but remain one and half games behind New Orleans for the final playoff spot headed into the all-star break.
“We’re just playing together as a team, what more can I say?” Favors said. “We’ve just got to keep it going. With the all-star break, hopefully we all get a rest, come back with the same intensity and same focus, sam hunger and continue to streak.”
The Jazz return to action on February 25th at home against Portland.