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Mitchell shines, Conley struggles as Utah Jazz eke out win against OKC in home opener

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It wasn’t pretty at times, but a win is a win.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz eked out a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder with Donovan Mitchell having a monster game—and an efficient one, too. Instead of going play by play for it, we’re going to do something a bit different. I know all of you can grab the game recap from NBA.com, AP, ESPN.com, and you’re going to read the same thing. I can only point out the facts so much. Instead I’m going to give you two rational reactions, two overreactions, and one under-reaction from the game.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Rational Reaction #1: We should be worried about Bojan Bogdanovic’s availability for Friday’s game against the Lakers

Bogdanovic was rolling before the second quarter. He was getting good looks at the rim and was looking every bit the weapon Utah thought they were getting in the offseason. Then Bogey went down in the second quarter with a rough ankle sprain. He couldn’t put weight on it, was helped off the court, then walked to the locker room on his on strength. Just as many thought he wasn’t going to try to chance coming back for the night, he checked into the game to start the second half. He would go on to score 16 points on 6-14 shooting. Dude is tough.

But anyone who has ever had an ankle injury knows that ankle is going to be a full blown kankle by tomorrow morning. It’s going to swell, it may become more uncomfortable, and it could limit his availability for the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. (Shameless plug: RSVP for DUNK NIGHT OUT if you haven’t already. Apparel giveaways, wings, and drinks—for adults with or without Uber)

Not helping the situation is Utah is traveling for the game so Bogey won’t get to stick around Utah and enjoy the benefit of the training facilities leading up to minutes before tip off. Something to keep an eye on. Joe Ingles may be asked to step into more minutes. More likely, Jeff Green who had 5 points and 2 rebounds off the bench in only 10 minutes.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Rational Reaction #2: The Jazz’s defense is not as bad as preseason made it out to be

The demise of Utah’s defense was greatly exaggerated. Utah held Oklahoma City to 95 points despite Citizen Kane Fitzgerald’s efforts to march anyone with a pulse to the charity stripe. The Jazz ended the game with a 94.1 defensive rating. Despite being smaller, the Jazz were only outrebounded 49-48 and that’s partially because Bojan Bogdanovic only played 23 minutes instead of the likely 32-34 had he not turned an ankle.

Utah was able to make smart in game adjustments to their transition defense when the Thunder were rolling with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the third quarter. SGA would only score 1 point in the 4th after scoring 25 through the first three. The look of Utah’s defense is weirder to watch as Utah isn’t intentionally trying to turn the game’s pace to a baby’s crawl, but as the game went on, it appeared that Gobert and the rest of the defense became more comfortable with the game’s speed.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Overreaction #1: EMMANUEL MUDIAY IS AN ABSOLUTE STEAL AND WILL BE A SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR CONTENDER

Emmanuel Mudiay was fantastic off the bench with 12 points on 6-11 shooting, 2 rebounds and 5 assists. While some of his decision making wasn’t the greatest and he got bailed out by some lucky shots at the rim when he misread the defense on a drive, he didn’t have one turnover. If this is the starting point for Mudiay in this young season, then Mudiay’s agent was a damn genius for recommending Utah for turning around his game. I tweeted out mid-game that Mudiay’s game tonight was basically a paid ad for future free agents should they pick Utah.

Emmanuel Mudiay was the Jazz’s best point guard by a wide margin—which we’ll get to in a minute. I’ve seen it said that if Exum did the things we saw from Mudiay on the offensive end, we’ll lose our minds. WELL, I’M LOSING MY MIND WITH JUST MUDIAY. I didn’t anticipate Mudiay to be this much of a factor this early in the season. I expected him to be more of a reclamation project and instead Quin Snyder is already working his Joe Ingles/Royce O’Neale magic with this year’s prodigal son.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Overreaction #2: DONOVAN MITCHELL IS FLASH 2.0 INCARNATE AND WILL BE BONAFIDE ALL-STAR THIS SEASON

NBA Twitter’s inefficient lightning rod will have to be decommissioned due to INSANE efficiency. Donovan Mitchell went from Friendly Neighborhood Spida-Man to “Bitch, please, you’ve been to space” Spida-Man over the offseason and we’re seeing the results. Donovan Mitchell scored 32 points on 14 of 22 shooting and pulled down a very Flash-like 12 rebounds while dishing out 3 assists and only turning over the ball once. I know, run on sentence, but the dramatic effect was needed.

We here at the Dunk and many other Jazz writers have said time and time again that Donovan Mitchell got the “chucker” label—not because he sought it—but because he had adopt it. The Utah Jazz didn’t have guys who could space the floor, get their own shot regularly, or a combination of the first two, LET ALONE, have many guys of that ilk on the court at the same time. Joe Ingles was the #2 scoring threat for Utah last year with Rubio #3. This year it’s Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, THEN Ingles. Even Mudiay flashed the ability to put pressure on the defense in that manner. What has that done for Donovan? Freed him up to do what he does best: be a freakin’ superstar.

Donovan Mitchell looks ready to take that 3rd year leap and—if he does—he could be a sneaky Most Improved Player pick and an All-Star.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Under-reaction #1: Mike Conley’s 1 for 16 shooting night wasn’t that bad *ducks*

I know, I know, it wasn’t great. Even Rubio—on most nights—would have looked for different ways to impact the game. Luckily, Conley did. He dished out 5 assists and still was a net positive due to his work on the defensive end and making the right pass. Conley was severely outplayed by Emmanuel Mudiay, YET HE WAS STILL ON HIS FEET ON THE BENCH CHEERING HIM ON. I know this seems like a copy and paste by a Rubio stan last season, but the good news is I don’t just have faith that something that hasn’t happened—a return to a much higher mean—is going to happen, I have faith that something that rarely happens to Conley will never happen again. Even Conley agrees.

“I was a little bit confused. I didn’t know what else I could do.” Conley said when asked about his rough night. “If I’m a betting man, I probably won’t do that again.”

Mike Conley TOTALLY knew that he was struggling mightily out there tonight. So much so that when he hit that free throw to put the game out of reach with seconds left and the crowd cheered, he hyped the crowd up to cheer more. He knew that the crowd had a “Ben Simmons just hit a 3” vibe of being excited for the actual free throw and just glad he got that load off his shoulder.

Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic—and many of the other new Jazz additions—are still getting accustomed to this team. The good news is all of them—minus Emmanuel Mudiay—are veteran players who have been in the league more than a hot minute. They’ll be fine. Especially Mike Conley. Conley has to return to the mean sometime and luckily for Utah, they have a big game against the Lakers coming up that would be a great opportunity. (cough, cough RSVP for DUNK NIGHT OUT cough, cough)