SALT LAKE CITY — Joe Ingles made an opening statement as he sat down for his postgame media sessions following the Utah Jazz’s 128-112 win over Sacramento on Saturday at Vivint Arena.
“There’s gonna be one question … and I’m just letting you all know now don’t bother asking it because I ain’t answering,” Ingles said.
Somebody said something to Ingles during the course of the game. Who said it and what exactly was said? Those answers might forever be a mystery to those outside the Jazz locker room, but the incident was the driving force in Utah’s victory Saturday.
The Jazz (40-13) came out slow — real slow. They didn’t score their first points until over three minutes into the game and didn’t make their first basket until four and a half minutes had ticked off. After playing three games in four nights against Western Conference playoff teams, it seemed the Jazz had little interest in playing with full effort against the sliding Kings (22-31).
“When a team kicks you in the mouth to start, 12-1, I mean you got to find something to kind of get your juices going,” said Georges Niang, who had 12 points. “They are feeling confident, and we’ve kind of wanted to take their confidence away, so sometimes, within the heat of the game, you just get to jawing back and forth and that’s just kind of what led to that.”
So if the Kings wanted to snap Utah’s franchise record winning streak, which now stands at 24, they should have probably kept their mouths shut.
“I don’t want to put Joe on the spot, but somebody said something to Joe,” Donovan Mitchell said. “And Joe gave an answer that I hadn’t heard in a while, and it just fired me up. When Joe gets angry, I get angry.”
That’s how the Kings ended up having to contend with a 42-point night from Mitchell, and a 20-point, six-assists game from Ingles. A Utah team that looked disinterested going in, suddenly had a bit of a spark.
“It’s more of a kind of funny comedy thing to me but, obviously, it lights something up in me that makes the game fun,” Ingles said.
Ingles helped save the Jazz from their putrid start. His four assists in the first quarter was more than half of the team’s total. He pushed the ball in transition and found open guys, and he was really the only Jazz player that was effective in attacking the Kings switching defense.
“He was creating for other people,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “And a lot of times when you do that you’re the one that ends up with the shot.”
He shot plenty. Ingles was 5-of-10 from 3-point range Saturday — a percentage that nearly matches his season average. Ingles is shooting a hair under 50% from 3 this season — more volume is a good thing for the Jazz; it was a bad things for the Kings.
As the saying goes, you don’t want to poke the bear — especially if that bear has some bear friends around, too.
Mitchell had 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting at halftime; he had 30 points on 9-of-17 shooting after the break — a turnaround he credited to the comment.
“That’s really what turned the tide for myself, personally,” Mitchell said of the mystery remark. “As far as the team, I think the biggest thing was we just found a way to win. It was ugly. I didn’t shoot the ball well, we made a few mistakes defensively, a bunch of mistakes defensively; offensively, we were kind of stagnant. But the team that we want to be wins games like this.”
Mitchell wasn’t alone in being much more effective in the second half. After Kings center Richaun Holmes had a 21-point first half, Rudy Gobert held him to just 4 points in the final two quarters.
“Let’s not get this misconstrued, Rudy is the Defensive Player of the Year and he’s going to get people’s best game every night,” Niang said. “So for him (Holmes) to have 21 points at half and what did he end with? 25? Yeah, 4 points, it’s like, OK, you woke up a monster.'”
The much more focused play led to Jazz runs of 17-1 in the third and 24-7 in the fourth. Those were good enough to erase the uglier moments.
While Ingles wasn’t willing to elaborate on the moment that sparked the Jazz win, it will go into the memory bank of dozens, if not hundreds, of similar encounters.
“It’s actually funny. I’ve said it before, like I’ve never gone into a game thinking of talking to anyone,” Ingles said, speaking in generalities. “I obviously get in probably more conversations with people than anyone else on our team.”
On Saturday, it was Ingles and Sacramento guard De’Aaron Fox doing plenty of yapping. While Ingles was doing what he often does — goating any response out of opponents while smiling about it. Fox’s frustration grew over officiating as the Kings’ early lead turned into a 16-point loss. Fox went as far as to call the officiating “god awful” after the game. That led to him confronting the officials over as the final horn blew. Mitchell, trying to save his old friend from a fine, tried to intervene.
“He’s been a friend of mine since high school and there’s no need to lose money over a situation like that — the game’s over, competition is over,” Mitchell said.
A game that, appropriately enough, ended with players talking.