Donovan Mitchell was not going to feel one ounce of sympathy for the short handed Houston Rockets tonight. The Rockets down Chris Paul to suspension and two others (James Ennis and Nene) to injury, got a taste of what Utah went through last season as they fought through their injuries. Donovan Mitchell carved up the Houston Rockets depleted starting five and racked up 38 points as the Utah Jazz beat the Houston Rockets 100-89.
The Utah Jazz’s defense that started to show signs of life against Memphis was in full force tonight against Houston. Houston shot only 37% from the field and 28% from three in the first half and in the second they shot 44% while shooting only 26% from three. Rudy Gobert had a defensive rating of 85.7 when he was on the floor and was just on another level defensively. Utah turned the Houston Rockets, Darryl Morey’s team, into a midrange shooting team. Eric Gordon, Carmelo Anthony, and James Harden all took midrange jumpers. With Carmelo just struggling to not scratch the itch, 36% of his shots came in the midrange. Ouch.
Donovan Mitchell was just on another level scoring 38 points with 5 rebounds and 7 assists. His only bad shot might have been his first. After a forced shot to the paint in which he was absolutely smothered, Donovan Mitchell put it into another gear. He was next level tonight against the Houston Rockets. One of the things holding Donovan back in his first few games was just not making the quick read when he got the ball. Slowing down the offense allowed the defense to prepare for him. There would be no such benefit for Houston’s defense tonight. He made quick decisions and attack the defense while they were in rotation. 20 of Donovan’s 38 points came in the paint as he sliced and diced Houston’s defense.
Houston really missed Chris Paul, but they also really miss Trevor Ariza. Why the Rockets did not retain one of their best—if no their best—perimeter defender is befuddling as they know lack anyone who can put a body on someone like Donovan Mitchell. Utah consistently went Melo hunting, and the hunt brought a great bounty.
Not helping Houston was James Harden’s foul trouble in the first half. He got two quick ones in 1st quarter and another quick one in the third. Mike D’Antoni left him in the game, but James Harden was basically a statue on defense trying to avoid fouls and not able to be as aggressive on offense. He basically was a glorified playmaker/spot up shooter for much of the first. James Harden would finish with 29 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists but would leave the fourth quarter with a sore hamstring.
Much of this game can be determined by the duel of James Harden and Donovan Mitchell. Offensively, outside of those two, each team’s supporting cast struggled from the field. Eric Gordon was 5 of 21. Ricky Rubio was 1 of 8. Jae Crowder was 3 of 12. The Jazz’s bench almost blew the Jazz’s lead in the beginning of the 4th quarter. Utah’s bench should have been better as the Rockets only went seven players deep on their rotation until garbage time.
Dante Exum played well off the bench consistently getting to the rim. He scored 9 points and had 1 assist. Alec Burks got a quick leash in the 2nd half after starting the game 1 of 2 with 5 points and 2 rebounds. Instead Grayson Allen came in the second half and had a goose egg of a stat line and was part of the lineup that allowed the Rockets to make a run.
Donovan Mitchell is a superstar. His rocky start seems like eons ago now that he has this type of game. This wasn’t just him suddenly making shots. As pointed out before, he made quicker reads on offense. Not only that, with Ricky Rubio struggling he was Utah’s best playmaker. He was taking what the defense was giving him and, with Houston, they were giving him a whole hell of a lot. Donovan started hitting the open 3 point shots that had been there for him since game 1, going 4 of 9 from deep. The Jazz needed every single last one of those points because his running mate in the backcourt has struggled.
Ricky Rubio is not having the greatest of starts to the season. His defense while out there on the floor was great. Eric Gordon was 5 of 21 this game, BUT he missed some WIDE open looks that weren’t really the result of good defense. Those missed shots were more an indicator of an off night. With that said, Rubio was playing TOUGH defense. Okay, we got that out of the way before anyone starts claiming we have it out for Rubio.
With that said, Ricky Rubio has been abysmal offensively. Tonight he was 1 of 8 from the field with 4 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists with 6 turnovers. For the season now, Ricky is averaging 6 ppg on 21.9% shooting, 2.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 3.3 turnovers. He has a negative +/- differential for the year. Houston for many plays was able to just flat out ignore Ricky on the offensive end. Luckily, the Rockets were undermanned and couldn’t take full advantage, but Rubio’s struggles to start the season are worrisome. A few games ago we got wind that Snyder subbed him out in the fourth quarter because of jammed thumb. For Utah to be the Utah that rises to be a two seed in the West, they need the Rubio of the second half of last season. One game into this road trip, Donovan has got his groove back; maybe Ricky can find his in game two.
Donovan said after the game that this was the first game Utah played complete end to end. He’s pretty close to right. Other than Ricky’s troubles, Utah played the type of game they want to play. They dictated the pace, played strong defense, and got the looks on offense they wanted. While there were some misfires, this was the closest Utah has looked this season to the team we saw the second half of last season.
The Utah Jazz continue their road trip this Saturday as they face the New Orleans Pelicans at 5:00PM MT. Here’s to hoping no one gets the Big Easy flu from the extended stay in New Orleans.