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Strong defensive effort paves the way as Jazz rout of Hawks, 95-68

SALT LAKE CITY — After Friday morning's shootaround, Utah coach Quin Snyder spent a couple minutes praising Atlanta for being "obviously the best defensive team in the league right now."

Then on Friday night, the Jazz came out and gave the Hawks a taste of their own medicine for 48 minutes — and it was a bitter taste for the visitors indeed.

Utah's defense held the Hawks to paltry 31.3-percent shooting from the field, and the Jazz had nine steals, nine blocks and a decided rebounding advantage en route to a 95-68 rout of Atlanta in front of an appreciative sellout crowd at Vivint Arena.

Gordon Hayward had 24 points and seven rebounds, George Hill added 23 points and five boards, and Utah big men Rudy Gobert and Trey Lyles also played pivotal roles as the Jazz climbed above .500 (9-8) while dealing the Hawks (10-6) their worst defeat of the season by far.

Indeed, Atlanta's 68 points were the second-lowest total in the NBA this season.

"I thought we executed our game really, really well," Hayward said. "We were locked on Kyle (Korver). I think the job that Rodney (Hood) did on him tonight was huge. ... He's a guy that can really score points in bunches, and Rodney shut him down.

"And also Rudy was huge tonight against Dwight Howard. ... We were able to get stops and then convert on the other end. ... The defensive end really helped on the offensive end, too."

Though Hayward had a nice stat line with his game-high 24 points, Snyder said "the best thing Gordon did tonight was defend — not even close."

"I think I was active, tried to get going on that end," said Hayward, who had two steals and a blocked shot. "I think we all tried to tonight, and it helped us out on the offensive end.

"We really were active and the scoreboard showed it. We held a really good Hawks team to 68 points, so that was huge for us. Honestly, it started at the break. Rudy was tremendous. "

Gobert had 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots while limiting Howard, Atlanta's high-profile big man, to just four points. Lyles came in off the bench to contribute a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

"I just try to do the right thing, playing defense and try to be aggressive," the 7-foot-1 Gobert said. "I'm pleased with the way my teammates played. I try to push them to focus on defense. When we're playing good defense, it's hard to beat us. Tonight, I think, we did our best defensive game of the year."

Snyder agreed with that assessment.

"I think guys were focused on it, and it's something that we want to be," the Jazz coach said. "We want to be a real good defensive team, and we were playing against the best defensive team in the league.

"We were focused on being disciplined — that was the main thing. ... That's how you play if you want to win.

"We're gonna reward guys if they play defense with opportunities to play," Snyder said. "... We're gonna play the guys that play defense, collectively."

This was one of those nights when everything clicked for the Jazz, who allowed just 25 points in the second and third quarters combined.

Early on, Boris Diaw fed Hayward with a couple of slick passes for layups, Hill hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Hayward drove for a dunk to help give the Jazz a 24-23 lead at the first stop.

In the second period, backup point guard Shelvin Mack had a coast-to-coast layup, then came up with a steal and fed Diaw for a short hook shot in the lane to put Utah up 36-29 with 8:07 left in the first half.

Hood then hit a long 3, Hill hit one of his own from the top of the key, and Joe Ingles rattled in a 3-pointer, too, to help the Jazz take a 48-34 halftime lead.

Lyles' putback dunk punctuated an evenly played third quarter that ended with Utah ahead 61-48. But in the fourth period, Lyles' 3-pointer ignited a 26-8 run that extended Utah's lead to 31 points at 87-56 with 5:18 to go.

Hill had two 3-pointers along with a steal that led to a layup and a conventional three-point play in that decisive surge. Gobert scored five points in the Utah spurt, Hood had a dunk off another steal by Mack, and Hayward hit a 3 of his own as the Jazz blew the game wide open before turning it over to their reserves.

Joe Johnson bounced in off Utah's bench and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds to help the Jazz to a 46-34 advantage on the boards, and Mack chipped in with five assists and four steals.

Defense definitely was the theme of the night for Utah, which plays next on Monday at Minnesota.

"It's been our focus all year long," said Hill, who had two of Utah's steals. "We're going to defend and hopefully our defense leads to offense. Today was just a prime example of all five guys locked in together, helping each other, rebounding and turning our defense into offense."

EMAIL: rhollis@desnews.com