SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Encouraging Dejounte Murray to play with more offensive freedom is turning out to be a winning formula for the San Antonio Spurs.
Murray had his second straight 20-point game, tallying 23 points and seven rebounds, to lead a balanced attack that helped the Spurs beat the Utah Jazz 113-104 on Friday night. He also tied his season high with four steals.
Such performances are quickly becoming a trend for the fourth-year guard. Over his past four games, Murray is shooting 60% from the field while averaging 19.8 points.
“When you get to play with freedom, it brings the best out of you because it builds confidence,” Murray said. “Your teammates and coaches believe in you.”
San Antonio used a 17-0 run late in the second half to turn a four-point game into a lopsided affair. Murray scored three baskets to fuel the game-changing run. His third one finished it off and gave the Spurs a 65-44 lead.
It offered a sweet moment for Murray, who has experienced plenty of highs and lows this season while trying to regain his form after sitting out all of last season while recovering from knee surgery. He feels like his game is still a work in progress, but it is getting better all the time.
“It’s not easy to come back and be the best that you can be,” Murray said. “I’m just working and I’m going to continue to work and see where it takes me.”
DeMar DeRozan added 18 points and seven assists for the Spurs. LaMarcus Aldridge chipped in 15 points and eight rebounds. Six players scored in double figures as San Antonio beat the Jazz for the second time this season.
Rudy Gobert finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Jazz. Emmanuel Mudiay chipped in 18 points and Jordan Clarkson added 15 off the bench for Utah. The Jazz had a four-game winning streak end with the loss.
The Spurs came out firing and had quite a bit of early success. They put together a 14-5 run in the first to go up 24-15 and made six straight shots to open the second quarter.
“We were trying to make everything difficult for them when they had the ball,” DeRozan said. “We just tried to get out and play freely.”
Before San Antonio pulled away for good, the Jazz cut the deficit to 46-42 on a 14-4 run bookended by a pair of baskets from Gobert. Then Utah went cold, and the Spurs methodically put the Jazz away.
“They were way too comfortable,” Gobert said. “Everything they did was free of movement. They were having fun and did whatever they wanted to do.”
San Antonio shot 54% from the field in the second quarter alone, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range. The Spurs matched a season-high with 38 points during the quarter.
Mudiay made three baskets over a two-minute stretch to open the fourth, helping the Jazz close to within 96-84. That’s as close as Utah could get in its comeback effort.
“We did respond,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We just responded too late.”
NIGHT AND DAY
Utah experienced a bit of deja vu after San Antonio enjoyed considerable success on mid-range and perimeter jumpers for the second time in as many meetings this season. The Spurs made 10 of 20 from 3-point range and connected on 46% of their field goal attempts outside the paint.
Utah, meanwhile, scored 14 baskets outside the paint and never found a rhythm from the perimeter until it was too late.
HE SAID IT
“They played like they didn’t have an All-Star break and were ready to go. We didn’t come ready to play from the jump and that is what happens.” — Guard Donovan Mitchell on the Spurs’ dominating the Jazz for much of the final three quarters.
Spurs: Patty Mills made a season-high seven free throws. He went 7 of 7 from the line and finished with 15 points. … San Antonio scored 18 points off 17 Jazz turnovers.
Jazz: Mike Conley (rest) did not play. … Utah scored its first five baskets in the paint and ended up outscoring the Spurs 42-28 in the lane. … The Jazz outscored San Antonio 18-9 on fastbreaks.
Spurs: Visit Oklahoma City on Sunday.
Jazz: Host Houston on Saturday.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports