Boston • Now that’s more like it.
After picking up two disappointing losses this week, the Jazz individually and collectively bounced back on the back to back, defeating the Boston Celtics by a score of 98-86.
And while it wasn’t a surprise, Donovan Mitchell, again led the way.
After Mitchell finished with 35 shots and zero assists on Friday, Mitchell felt the heat. ESPN published an article noting it was the first time since 2014 a player had accomplished that “feat.” Mitchell’s mother sent him the story.
There were other voices, too — the ones yelling at Mitchell from courtside in Philadelphia and Boston, two of the most boisterous crowds in the league.
Mitchell responded with a 28-point, 6-assist performance on Saturday night that was one of the best we’ve seen from the guard in his sophomore season. He still took his share of shots (21), but instead of forcing his looks to the detriment of teammates, Mitchell looked inside and outside too, setting up six different players for layups, dunks, and threes.
“Can’t please everybody, you’re not going to. I personally like the negative stuff. I prefer it. I prefer playing with that,” Mitchell said. “I wish I could have that every game. But that’s just been always me. I’m not going to forget what happened yesterday, but I’m going to continue to allow it to push me.”
He wasn’t the only one with a bounce-back performance. Backcourt mate Ricky Rubio also had his fair share — okay, maybe more than his fair share — of bad play in recent games. After the loss to the Sixers, he tweeted “be thankful for the hard times, for they have made you.”
• Donovan Mitchell pours in 28 points as the Jazz rebound in a big way after Friday’s frustrating loss in Philadelphia.
• Ricky Rubio added 20 points and was all over the court defensively, disrupting the Celtics' attack.
• Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors dominate inside at both ends of the floor, combining for 22 points on just 11 shots.
But on Saturday night, he propelled the Jazz, first through his defense (Rubio had three steals in the first six minutes of the game), then through his scoring. Rubio finished with 20 points, and made things tough enough on Celtics star Kyrie Irving defensively that he finished with five fouls, playing through foul trouble throughout.
“Man, Ricky was all over the place defensively, offensively. That’s the Ricky Rubio that we need,” Mitchell said. “This game, at this moment, really helps him.”
The 86 points the Celtics scored were the lowest opponent point total the Jazz have allowed this season. There’s no doubt that this game was a return to Jazz-quality defense, though Boston also helped things along with a horrendous shooting performance. These numbers will be familiar to Jazz fans after the last two games: the Celtics shot just 38 percent overall, and only made five of their 33 3-point attempts (15 percent).
“I thought tonight we started with some reasonable energy, and then we missed a ton of shots, and it really affected our energy,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “They deserve a ton of credit. They had back-to-back, they traveled last night, absolutely no excuses other than we just got outplayed. They’re a better team than we are, they beat us twice. They deserve that.”
Both Jazz centers had success at the rim on both ends of the floor. Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors combined for 22 points on just 11 shots, and did a great job of defending the paint against what are usually some very good slashing wings. Jayson Tatum was Boston’s second-leading scorer with 10 points, and Jaylen Brown only had three.
For the second time in a week, former Jazzman Gordon Hayward played the second night of a back to back against the Jazz. For Hayward, this game was a little less successful than the last one: Hayward scored only seven points. Perhaps the best moment of the night came late, when Mitchell skied to block a Hayward fast break dunk — just as Hayward used to do in a Jazz uniform.
“[Mitchell] was sizing [Hayward] up the whole way,” Jae Crowder said about the play. “It was just a matter of whether or not he’d get it.”
But that’s the thing about Mitchell: when he wants something, he usually goes out and gets it. If it doesn’t work the first time, he’ll adjust and try again. And of course, it helps if there’s someone who says he can’t succeed.
“There are a lot of times where I hit a shot and just start talking, emotionally letting a lot of stuff out. ” Mitchell said. “I let it fuel me.”
KEY MOMENT: In the middle of the third quarter, Donovan Mitchell hit two consecutive threes, then found Rudy Gobert for a dunk, then was fouled on yet another 3-point attempt to turn the Jazz’s margin into a double-digit lead.
BIG NUMBER: 0: The Celtics made zero of their nine corner 3-point attempts in Saturday’s game, and shot 15 percent overall from deep.
WHAT’S NEXT: The Jazz face another of the Eastern Conference’s best teams on Monday when they play the Indiana Pacers at 5 p.m. MT. It’s the last game of the road trip.