SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — After all but the last couple of Sacramento Kings had exited the locker room, coach Dave Joerger stood in the doorway and couldn’t stop smiling as his center walked toward him.
“That was one hell of game, Willie Cauley-Stein,” Joerger said. “Yes, one hell of a game.”
Cauley-Stein had faced the NBA’s reigning defensive player of year, Rudy Gobert, and didn’t flinch. He just nodded at his coach as if it were no big deal.
“I’m faster than him and more elusive. So I just play my game. I’m the same size as him, so I’m not real worried about his length,” said Cauley-Stein, who scored 23 points to help Sacramento beat the Utah Jazz 119-110 on Wednesday night.
“I give him a lot of misdirection and then I get into his body so he can’t jump,” he added. “I’m not afraid.”
At a time in the game when previous Kings teams would wilt, this Sacramento squad outhustled, outmuscled and outshot the Jazz in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Nemanja Bjelica made a 3-pointer with 4:56 remaining to finish a 16-1 run that turned a two-point game into a 105-88 lead.
“You lose games when you stop playing hard and start trying to hold the ball. If you try and stall out the game, you’re going to lose,” said Cauley-Stein, who shot 11 for 15. “We want to keep being aggressive.”
Just when Sacramento looked to be in total control, the Jazz mustered a last-gasp rally. Donovan Mitchell scored 14 points in less than 3½ minutes to bring Utah to 114-110.
“We have the fight in us,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to do that, not when we’re down 15 or 17. ... We’ve got to do it from the beginning of the game.”
Bjelica, who had 18 points, converted a three-point play and Iman Sumpert made two free throws to finish off the Jazz, who have lost four of five. Bogdan Bogdanovich also scored 18.
De’Aaron Fox added 17 points and 13 assists for the Kings, who snapped a six-game losing streak to Utah.
“We kept playing at our pace. In close games, guys don’t want to run anymore,” Fox said. “It’s hard to beat us if we’re playing at that pace while we’re still executing.”
Mitchell scored 35 points and awakened the Jazz, who seemed to be slogging through the game until their late surge. Jae Crowder added 16 for Utah.
The Kings, quicker to loose balls and crisp on their offensive sets, led by as many as 15 in the first half.
Ricky Rubio missed his first seven shots and then suddenly made three in a row in the third quarter. His last shot — a floating 19-foot jumper — gave the Jazz their first lead since the opening moments at 72-71.
The Kings quickly regained the lead but couldn’t extend their advantage to double digits until Fox got into the lane on back-to-back possessions for tough floaters that started the Kings’ surge in the final period.
GOING THE DISTANCE
“Just keep running is the biggest thing for us. Don’t stop,” Joerger said before the game. “By the end of the game we’re able to run teams down. It’s opening up transition shots.” The Kings outscored the Jazz 14-9 in fast-break points.
After the game, Fox added: “With the way that we’re playing, we’re getting down the court faster than their five. If we have numbers, my job is just to find who’s open. The game has definitely slowed down for me and I’m able to make that pass and guys are making shots.”
WHERE’S THE DEFENSE?
After leading the NBA in defensive efficiency last season, the Jazz are having trouble stopping anyone.
“We have to be able to defend better to win,” coach Quin Snyder said. “If I could point to one thing, it’s our communication. That’s the thing that links you together and makes you be able to defend as a group.”
Gobert is pointing at himself.
“I think it starts with me. The guys need me. I have to show up and bring the intensity,” he said.
Kings: Sacramento’s offense seemed one step ahead of the scrambling Utah defense all night, shooting 53 percent from the field and 44 percent on 3-pointers. ... Bogdanovich has scored in double figures in five straight games. He missed the first 10 games of the season.
Jazz: After Crowder made a 3-pointer while getting fouled, he rested on his back for a bit and got high-fives from several delighted fans in the front row. ... Utah never led by more than two after Gobert started the game with a dunk. Gobert finished with 13 points and 15 rebounds. ... The Jazz shot 12 for 39 from 3-point range.
Kings: At the Golden State Warriors on Saturday evening.
Jazz: Visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night.