SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Closing out games hasn’t been a simple task at times for Utah this season. Losing starting point guard George Hill to a first-quarter injury only complicated matters against Phoenix on Saturday night.
The Jazz turned to their defense, holding the Suns to just two baskets over the final 6:45 of the fourth quarter en route to a 91-86 victory.
Phoenix missed 11 shots during that decisive stretch. The Suns also committed a pair of critical turnovers. It opened the door for Utah to pull away for its third straight win.
“We just got stops,” Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said. “We started to lock up on the defensive end. We struggled offensively, but because we were able to guard in the fourth there, we had more opportunities and were able to convert some of them.”
Rudy Gobert had 18 points and 13 rebounds, and Hayward added 18 points and nine rebounds to lead Utah. Rodney Hood added 13 points to help the Jazz to improve to 21-13.
Devin Booker scored 18 of his 20 points in the first quarter for Phoenix, and Eric Bledsoe added 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. The Suns dropped to 10-24.
The game featured 20 lead changes and eight ties, until Hayward tipped in a missed basket to put Utah ahead for good. Gobert followed with a pair of dunks to give the Jazz an 89-84 lead with 1:46 left.
Phoenix had a chance to force overtime in the final seconds, but Booker missed a 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds remaining. Hayward grabbed the rebound and hit two free throws to seal it.
“It was a battle tonight,” Booker said. “I have never been to the playoffs, but if there was anything like a playoff atmosphere, I feel like it was tonight. Low scoring game. Not too many people getting crazy numbers. Just hard, grind-out basketball.”
Playing without Hill after a late first-quarter injury, the Jazz turned to their defense in the fourth quarter. Phoenix shot 7 of 22 from the field in the quarter and had 15 points.
Utah charged out to a 63-54 lead early in the third quarter behind back-to-back baskets from Gobert and Shelvin Mack. Phoenix cut the deficit to one after Booker capped an 8-0 run with his first basket since the first quarter. But Hood quickly buried a pair of 3-pointers to stop the spurt.
The Jazz built up a 76-68 lead with 1:41 left in the quarter when Raul Neto drove for a layup and then stole the ball from Tyler Ulis to set up a second layup less than a minute later.
Suns: Booker scored 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the first quarter alone. The Jazz held him to two points on 1-of-9 shooting over the final three quarters. … Phoenix has lost six straight in the series after getting swept 4-0 by Utah a year ago.
Jazz: Gobert had his 23rd double-double of the season. He is the first Jazz player to average a double-double through the first 34 games of a season since Al Jefferson did in 2012-13. Gobert has had 19 straight games with 10-plus rebounds this season. … The Jazz shot 8 of 20 (40 percent) from 3-point range. Joe Ingles led the way with a 3-of-3 effort from distance.
HILL OUT AGAIN
Hill went to the locker room with 0.6 seconds left in the first quarter after being elbowed in the face by Suns center Alex Len. Hill received stitches for a lower lip laceration and underwent concussion testing. He did not return in the second half.
There is no timetable for Hill’s return. He exhibited concussion-like symptoms and now will go through the league mandated concussion protocols before he’s cleared to play.
Hill has appeared in just 13 of 34 possible games because of injuries this season. He missed eight games with a sprained thumb and 13 games with a sprained toe. The veteran guard is averaging a career-best 19.1 points along with 4.2 assists and 3.7 rebounds.
Utah coach Quin Snyder praised his team for responding well in Hill’s absence.
“I thought we held the line and just continued to battle defensively,’ Snyder said. “It was just a tough contested game really – every pass, every play.”
Suns: Monday they travel to Los Angeles to face the Clippers. Phoenix has lost six straight and nine of the last 10 on the road in the series.
Jazz: Monday they travel to Brooklyn to face Nets. Utah will face former Jazz forward Trevor Booker for the first time this season after he signed with Brooklyn this summer following two seasons with the Jazz.