"He's a really good player, not just for a rookie."
Those were the words of Damian Lillard whose team suffered a 19 point loss to the Utah Jazz tonight. Utah outscored the Portland Trail Blazers 115-96 as the Jazz extended their winning streak to 9 games and pulled to .500 for the first time since December 7th. Donovan Mitchell was once again spectacular, scoring 27 points and pulling down 6 rebounds. The league is taking notice and even with the additional attention on the scouting report Donovan Mitchell is still getting his.
The degree of difficulty of tonight's win was especially high as Ricky Rubio was ruled out before tonight's game with hip soreness and new Jazzman Jae Crowder was being integrated into the rotation. With Ricky Rubio out, Royce O'Neale got his first start of the season and played an exceptional game with 4 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and a +/- of +28. Andrei Kirilenko would be proud. Royce O'Neale continues to be an amazing presence on the court. I feel like we say this every night, but he'd be the talk of Salt Lake City if Donovan Mitchell wasn't drafted. Dennis Lindsey might have come up short in the Gordon Hayward sweepstakes, but he has aced every exam since.
Jae Crowder looked like Boston Jae crowder tonight. He had 15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal while shooting 3 of 7 from three. He even mentioned after the game how he missed playing in a "system," a not so subtle dig at Cleveland's watch LeBron do stuff and wait for the ball on the perimeter offense.
This game was close through halftime as the Jazz and Blazers went back and forth. Then the 3rd quarter happened. The Utah Jazz outscored the Trail Blazers 38-19 in the third. Rudy Gobert shutdown the pain, Joe Ingles was raining down threes, and your favorite rookie Donovan Mitchell was going to work against Portland's All-Star Damian Lillard.
Joe Ingles did his best Ricky Rubio impression all night. He worked the pick and roll, found his teammates, and Jingled from distance. He once again scored a career high with 24 points tonight. When the Jazz signed him, many—including myself—thought he was brought on to be Exum's mentor and worry stone. He's bonafide starter caliber player and he's still getting better at 30. Unlike his hair, he gets better with age.
Rudy Gobert had 12 points, and 11 rebounds. But his real impact was on the defensive end. Many times throughout the game Portland players drove the paint and changed their mind about trying to finish in the paint and passed out or into a turnover. Gobert's defensive presence is something that just doesn't show up on a stat sheet. His reputation scares opponents from attacking the paint. At one point in the 3rd quarter the Portland Trailblazers had only scored 9 points in the paint. NINE. Spectacular.
The Utah Jazz are now at .500 which seemed like a pipe dream nine games ago. As our own writer Tavan Parker pointed out, the Jazz were favored to lose in 6 of their last 9 games in this winning streak. In their remaining games? They're favored in 21 out of 26 of them. Utah is hitting their stride at just the right time and they've added firepower with Jae Crowder.
Utah's next game is tomorrow as they face the Spurs at home. If the Jazz are going to win 10 straight, they're going to have to earn it against San Antonio who'll be looking to avenge Utah's smackdown of them in the Alamo.
Damian Lillard definitely didn't have 50 points tonight. He had 39. (ugh) But that still was better than 50. Even if Lillard did score 50 the Trail Blazers STILL would have lost by 8. Outside of Lillard and CJ McCollum, the Trail Blazers are not getting much help. While Utah looks like a team on the verge of putting together a contending roster, Portland's team looks like it has a lifetime sentence in the NBA middle class.
Raul Neto continues his solid backup point guard work as he had 7 points and 5 assists in only 15 minutes of play. Neto's good, y'all.
Thank goodness, the Jazz didn't listen to us in December and move Favors. He had 15 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, and some beautiful passes. He and Rudy have figured out the secret to playing together. Amazing.