SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz snapped their two-game losing streak with a dominant 122-103 victory at home over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Donovan Mitchell made wouldn’t lose their straight game as they battle to maintain home-court advantage throughout the playoffs by scoring 37 points on an impressive 14-25 shooting. Rudy Gobert added 18 points and 20 rebounds as the Jazz erased a three point halftime deficit and ran away with a 19 point home win.
The Jazz have now won 23 straight games in Utah, extending the franchise record home winning streak and moving into a tie for the 16th longest streak in NBA history.
Damian Lillard scored 23 points for Portland but shot just 8-21 from the floor as the Trail Blazers went winless on their two-game road trip.
Donovan Mitchell Is Changing How He Wins Games
For most of Donovan Mitchell’s career, he’s been able to help the Jazz win games offensively. Early as a rookie, he’d dominate a quarter. As a sophomore, he began dominating whole halves. In this third season, Mitchell proved he could carry an entire playoff series by himself against the Denver Nuggets.
Now, in his fourth season, Mitchell is finding new ways to dominate games. Not only is the All-Star guard averaging a career-high 26.0 points per game, but he also upped his assist average to a career-best 5.4 dimes per game, while shooting 39 percent from the three-point line.
But unlike his first three seasons in the NBA, there was nothing difficult about Mitchell’s domination tonight. The All-Star scored a game-high 20 points in the first half and followed it up with 17 points in the second half.
This comes on the heels of his 41 point outing in Phoenix when Mitchell scored 23 points in the second half, including a clutch three with 10 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
And while Mitchell still has more than his fair share of highlight-reel plays, the ease with which the game now comes to him is unlike anything he’s shown in previous seasons.
These are a few examples of the game ‘slowing down’ for Mitchell.
First, Mitchell crashes the board looking for a putback opportunity, and he’s had a few highlight-reel dunks like this. But instead of trying to grab the rebound, come down, and then go up for a basket, he makes the easy play for Derrick Favors and gets him a layup.
It’s not a particularly difficult decision, nor is it a tough pass to make, but it’s the right play and it helped the Jazz extend the lead.
This next play also involves a quick dish to Favors in what could be a tricky place to operate nearly the coffin corner. Favors kicks the ball to Mitchell near the baseline, but before even thinking about dribbling or shooting, both of which would have put the Jazz at a disadvantage, he finds Favors for an easy runner.
Enes Kanter doesn’t have the foot speed to recover and Mitchell didn’t need to try to take on the Portland trap. Again, not a terribly difficult pass, but it was the right pass at the right time.
Finally, here’s a juxtaposition of why Mitchell has developed into a dominant scorer. In this first play, he makes an incredibly different shot off an impressive dribble sequence while utilizing the modern-day stepback.
Mitchell is quicker than Norman Powell and can get his shot off over him with the step back, but still, this is a ridiculously difficult shot. There will be a point in the fourth quarter of a playoff game this season where the Jazz need Mitchell to pull a rabbit out of a hat, and this shows he can do it.
But, here’s another play, also a Mitchell mid-range two-point shot, that he didn’t need to utilize his incredible combination of ball-handling skills.
Here Mitchell rubs off of a Gobert screen, splits to Portland defenders, and gives himself two options. He could have attacked the Trail Blazers at the rim, or pulled up for the jump shot. Mitchell opts for the jumper, but instead of rushing it, he’s done the math in his head and recognizes he still has a defender behind him who is coming to try to make a play.
Mitchell sells the exaggerated pump fake, lets Damian Lillard fly by, and cans the wide-open 16 footer. Now, none of these plays are nearly as easy as Mitchell makes them look, especially against the best players in the world, but the Jazz guard is executing at such a high level and he’s making them look easy.
In his postgame press conference, Jazz coach Quin Snyder mentioned the one simple play that stood out most to him from Mitchell’s night.
“My favorite play that Donovan made tonight, and I think a really significant play that if you ask him he’s aware of and happy with is when he drove the gap, and just made a quick little kick to Joe Ingles who bang to three.”
This is the fourth step in Mitchell’s evolution as a dominant offensive player. The guard still has the ability to make difficult plays when he needs to, but he’s finding ways to make the easy plays first to eliminate the hardest parts of the game.
Favors Climbing Up Jazz All-Time Lists
In two of the Mitchell highlights seen above, you saw four of Favors’ seven total points against Portland. It’s par for the course now as Favors averages just 5.8 points in 15.6 minutes per game, and yet, the 11-year veteran continues to climb up the All-Time lists for the Jazz.
Tonight, he passed Mehmet Okur to move into 10th place on the Jazz all-time leading scoring list with 7,257 points.
That’s a surprising number for Favors considering he’s never averaged more than 16.4 points per game and a testament to how important he has been to the Jazz throughout his career.
What’s more surprising, is how many top ten lists Favors find his name on for the Jazz. Here’s a breakdown of every list that Favors finds himself among the top ten in Jazz history:
Points: 10th – 7,257
Games: 9th – 625
Field Goals: 7th – 2,937
2-Point Field Goals: 7th – 2,902
2-Point Field Goal Attempts: 8th – 5,386
Free-Throw Attempts: 10th – 2004
Offensive Rebounds: 4th – 1,552
Defensive Rebounds: 5th – 2,970
Total Rebounds: 4th – 4,552
Blocks: 7th – 823
Personal Fouls: 9th – 1,592
Blocks Per Game: 8th – 1.3
PER: 9th – 19.4
Total Rebound Percentage: 10th – 16.2
Block Percentage: 7th – 4.2
Defensive Win Shares: 7th – 24.6
Win Shares: 7th – 51.4
That’s 17 of the 52 major lists the NBA tracks statistically that Favors finds his name on for the Jazz. With two seasons left on his contract, he’ll continue to move up a few of these lists, and could climb into the top ten in a few more.
“It’s been a blessing for me to be able to be with one team, one organization, and to reach an accomplishment like that,” Favors said after the game. “That’s a blessing for me.”
Between his prime with the team, how he came to the Jazz after the fallout from the Deron Williams trade, the raw numbers of games he’s played for the franchise, and the frequency with which his name is plastered all over the team’s top 10 lists, Favors has a legitimate argument to be considered one of the ten most important Jazz player of all time, if not a top ten player in franchise history.
“It says a lot that we let him go for a year and … immediately brought him back here,” Mitchell said of Favors who spent last season with the New Orleans Pelicans. “That says a lot about a person in general, forget the basketball component of it.”
The Jazz schedule now eases up as they face four consecutive teams on the outside of the playoffs looking in before traveling to face the Los Angeles Lakers on the road. With the Suns’ loss tonight, the Jazz again lead the West by 2.5 games with 21 games left to play.