SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Opponents are starting to find out just how tough the Utah Jazz can be on defense over 48 minutes.
The Jazz clamped down on the Charlotte Hornets from start to finish in a 109-92 victory on Friday night.
Utah contested shots, forced a flurry of early turnovers, and won a second straight home game by double-digits. Utah has won eight straight games and 13 of 14.
Charlotte struggled under intense defensive pressure from the Jazz from the opening tip. Utah forced seven turnovers in the first quarter alone. The Jazz racked up 14 of their first 19 points off those miscues.
“We didn’t want to let them get confidence early,” center Rudy Gobert said. “We didn’t want to do that the whole game, so we stayed consistent through the whole game. That’s why we were able to create that much of a gap.”
Gobert put his stamp on the game early and finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds, and six blocked shots while playing only three quarters.
The two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year was a force at both ends of the court in the first half. He blocked four shots, matching his total blocks over the previous four games. Gobert intimidated the Hornets from doing much on offense.
“I don’t care how big he is, we still gotta be physical,” guard Terry Rozier said. “We still gotta make him feel us, because he’s making us feel them. You gotta get your mind ready going into the game.”
Jordan Clarkson led the Jazz with 20 points off the bench. Bojan Bogdanovic added 16 points and Georges Niang chipped in 15 while matching his career high with five 3-pointers.
Rozier scored 23 points to lead the Hornets. Miles Bridges added 11. Charlotte finished with 21 turnovers, leading to 24 points for the Jazz. The Hornets have lost three straight.
The Jazz swept the regular-season series with the Hornets for the second straight season.
“We just kind of made it tough on them from the start,” forward Joe Ingles said. “The flip side of that when you’re able to score on the other side of getting stops, the game is a bit easier.”
Utah raced to a huge lead. The Jazz outscored the Hornets 19-2 over a five-minute stretch for a 29-11 advantage late in the first quarter. Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale and Niang combined for four 3-pointers to fuel the run. Gobert bookended the outburst with a pair of dunks.
Charlotte’s seven first-quarter turnovers played a critical role in the run.
“They’re a fantastic defense, but they’re not known for turning teams over,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “But we shot ourselves in the foot tonight, especially on that end in the first quarter.”
Utah kept the pressure on in the second quarter. The Jazz extended their lead to 25 points lead three times in the two minutes before halftime, and led 61-36 on a dunk by Gobert.
Utah’s second unit has quietly turned into a strength as the calendar has flipped to a new year. The Jazz scored at least 40 bench points for the fourth straight game after outscoring the Hornets 56-39 in bench points.
They totaled 57 bench points against the Knicks on Wednesday night and are playing with a fresh energy since acquiring Jordan Clarkson in December. In both victories, no Jazz starter played 30 or more minutes.
“Obviously, the guys who are on the bench unit throughout the whole year – we take pride in minutes and things like that,” Niang said. “Getting out there and trying to make an impact for our starters is something big to us.”
Donovan Mitchell scored just four points on 2-of-9 shooting in 22 minutes. Mitchell battled illness en route to not scoring in double figures for the first time this season. He focused his energies on making an impact on the defensive end and succeeded in that effort.
“He still defended,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “Other guys had an opportunity to score, but he didn’t let his teammates down on the defensive end.”
Hornets: Charlotte’s only lead of the game came at the 8:25 mark in the first quarter when Bridges knocked down a 3-pointer to put the Hornets up 7-5. … Willy Hernangomez scored a season-high 15 points to lead the Hornets’ second unit.
Jazz: Niang went 8 of 12 from 3-point range over two games against Charlotte this season. … Utah totaled nine assists on 11 first-quarter baskets. … The Jazz scored at least 40 bench points for the fourth straight game. Utah outscored the Hornets 56-39 in bench points.
Hornets: Visit the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.
Jazz: Visit the Washington Wizards on Sunday.
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