The Utah Jazz played what might considered their best complete game in months as they took down the Minnesota Timberwolves 120-100 in Salt Lake City. Before the game got started however, the Utah Jazz had some statements planned to react to the terrible event that involved Russell Westbrook and now banned quote Jazz fan unquote Shane Keisel.
Giving a speech before the game, Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller said, “Everyone who comes here, visiting teams included, deserves the right and the expectation to be treated with dignity at all times, … No one wins when respect goes away.”
Gail Miller addressed tonight's crowd ahead of tip-off ❤️ pic.twitter.com/nJcmPD2kD4— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) March 15, 2019
It was a strong statement that was necessary and needed. Utah Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey had even said on a recent interview with USA Today that he couldn’t sleep the night following even apologizing personally to OKC Thunder players, management, and coaching staffs.
With the necessary course correction out of the way, it was time for basketball. The Utah Jazz led all game save for a few minutes in the 1st quarter. While Donovan Mitchell was his normal high scoring and highlight self, the real player of the game was Derrick Favors. He had 17 points, 11 rebounds, 1 steal, and 2 blocks in only 26 minutes of play. He was an absolute hulk. Out of those 11 rebounds, 5 of them were offensive. His cutting, rebounding, and highlight dunks really powered Utah through this game.
On the other side of the ball, Karl-Anthony Towns is an absolute beast. While he has absolutely zero help on that team, he had 26 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists. He was even 3 of 4 from three point land. KAT is such a unique talent, but he’s also a sieve when it comes to defense. The Utah Jazz were able to get anything they wanted inside and that’s evident with how Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors were able to combine for 27 points and 24 rebounds. Even Jae Crowder was able to feast inside on back cuts.
Ricky Rubio may not have set the world a blaze by his scoring but he was like an elite game managing QB tonight. He actually has been this way since returning. Utah doesn’t need him to score 20 points a night. They need his stable presence to take pressure off of Donovan Mitchell and hit the occasional open three. He did that tonight against the T-Wolves. He finished with 8 points, 3 rebounds, and 8 assists.
Dante Exum, on the other hand, struggled once again in his third game back and even mysteriously leaving shortly after being pulled again from the game after quick turnovers and wild play. Dante has looked like a shell of his former self since returning. It was then found out that he had a knee injury, but no one knows if that was a real injury or a cover for leaving the floor early in frustration. The prior night in Phoenix after another quick substitution out, Dante Exum could visibly be seen yelling at the coaching staff, “WHAT DO YOU EXPECT ME TO DO?” as he took a seat at the end of the bench. Whether fair or not, Dante Exum is going to be compared to what could have been with a Mike Conley deal at the deadline.
Raul Neto finally free of injury was great in his few minutes. He had 7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block in only 13 minutes. Georges Niang who had to fill in for the injured Thabo Sefolosha was fantastic as well scoring 8 points and was 2 of 2 from three point land.
Notes and Takeaways
I’m impressed by Utah’s forceful response to all the controversy from the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. I’m impressed that they didn’t shy away from taking responsibility. I’m impressed by fans giving of their own money to the Human Rights Campaign. I’m impressed by many fans taking responsibility to be better. Jazz fans are known for being passionate and now it feels they want to be known for being the best for any team that comes into Vivint Smart Home Arena. Less than a few days of good will not change Utah’s perception around the league overnight. We all have to commit to being better—the organization, the fans, the staff at the arena—but this doesn’t feel faked or manufactured by Utah to dig out of a crisis. This feels authentic.
Utah has a Dante Exum problem right now. Dante looks visibly upset by his play and by his short leash by the coaching staff. Coaching staff looks frustrated by his play. Could this be tough love similar to December? Possibly. Could this be the end of the road for Dante Exum in Utah? The latter is starting to feel very plausible. The longer this season goes on, the more it feels likely that Dante Exum will face a similar Jazz career end like Rodney Hood and Alec Burks. Even for an ardent supporter of Exum Island, I believe I’m seeing the writing on the wall. The Exum experiment is coming to an end.
Raul Neto if he can stay healthy is a dang good backup point guard who continues to get better. No matter what Utah does with Ricky Rubio, I feel confident in saying that the Jazz would love to have Neto back on contract next year backing up whoever is here in Utah whether that ends up being Mike Conley, another free agent, or Ricky Rubio.
Utah has now won two straight and looks to be getting back into a rhythm. They are now in 6th place in the West only 2.5 games back of Houston and Portland. Buckle up.