What a fun game!
The Utah Jazz had to dig deep to pull a win out against a Mavericks team with a ton of players in Covid protocols. They finished their Christmas game with a win, 120-116.
A lot of credit needs to go to the Mavericks who were missing their best player as well as other key rotation guys. Right before the game started, Kristaps Porzingis was given the go-ahead to start in this one and he was a huge asset for the Mavericks. He looked like his old Knicks self out there hitting mid-rangers and taking advantage of mismatches on the offensive end. He finished the game with 27 points and went 11/13 from the free-throw line. Utah had Royce O’Neale guarding him for multiple stretches of the game and he struggled to contain Porzingis. It’s hard to knock O’Neale for that as Porzingis is like 7’2”. Some Jazz fans would ask why O’Neale was on him and the answer is, do you think he’d do better guarding the rolling center, Dwight Powell? It was clearly a tough matchup defensively for Utah. The adjustment that helped was Rudy Gay at the 4. Gay had the size to at least be more physically dominant with Porzingis and it slowed him down. That’s the type of versatility the Jazz likely hoped for when they signed Gay. It gives Quin Snyder options when he needs them.
Jalen Brunson was superb tonight. Brunson also scored 27 on a 40/40 split. He also dished out 6 assists and was a +4 in a 4-point loss. Brunson has been playing big-time basketball while Luka Doncic has been out and will no doubt garner some serious interest next year when he’s an unrestricted free agent next season.
For Utah, they came out and played one of the worst first quarters they’ve played in a long time. At one point they were down 16. Yes, this Mavericks roster was just put together and there isn’t a clear game plan on how to guard and attack them, but that’s when talent and precision should shine through and it was just not there. It’s clear the Jazz have some serious defensive flaws and it may not be an effort thing. In fact, I’m pretty sure at this point it’s a roster flaw. You can’t teach players to be younger. Utah’s offense also struggled for major parts of this game. Some of that can be attributed to a desperate Mavericks team and some of that is a Jazz team that hits rough stretches that give other teams chances to go on runs. It makes sense that this Jazz team that scores so well in the advanced stats still finds itself in games like this. Yes, they’ll go on major scoring stretches but when they struggle, their perimeter defense fails them every night and it’s what gives other teams opportunities to get back in games. Utah has to find a player that can improve the athleticism of this team as well as the perimeter defense. Justin Zanik and Danny Ainge have their work cut out for them.
Having said all that, the Jazz won the game! It was a fantastic crowd and it was a close game that I’m sure ESPN appreciated. Donovan Mitchell played fantastically. Tonight he scored 33 points on 42% from the field with just 1/7 from three. His three hasn’t been falling of late but his incredible shooting from 2-pt range continued. He also had 3 assists and 3 steals. Richard Jefferson talked about him not being All-NBA last year as a travesty and it’s absolutely true. The NBA continues to allow lazy analysis from national people to affect those spots on the All-NBA roster and it wouldn't matter too much if it didn’t relate completely to Mitchell’s ability to get a supermax extension. You can bet that Mitchell knows this and it’s part of the reason why his play has gone up another level this year. The other reason is he’s just really damn good.
Some other bits of info. Rudy Gobert is fantastic and was really good again tonight. That sentence could be copy and pasted into every recap. Hassan Whiteside continues to be one of the great bargain pickups in recent memory. Maybe one of the best of all time after Joe Ingles? Mike Conley continued his run of insane consistency. He’s such a pro and it is fun to watch him night after night.
Merry Christmas, everybody!