Sacramento, Calif. • After Donovan Mitchell suffered a rib contusion Friday vs. the Lakers, it was announced Saturday that he would sit out the game Sunday vs. the Kings.
Considering Mitchell is averaging a team-best 20.6 points per game and had scored 35 in the Jazz’s previous meeting with Sacramento, his presence would, no doubt, be missed. So who would step up to fill the void?
Well, Ricky Rubio had Mitchell’s ppg covered by halftime, and finished with 27; Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles contributed 18 apiece; Alec Burks and Jae Crowder — who started in place of Derrick Favors — added 14 each; and Favors then scored 11 off the bench, helping the Jazz snap a three-game losing streak with a 133-112 victory at the Golden1 Center.
“With Donovan out, we wanted to be collectively aggressive. We had to play a different style of offense — get the ball moving, make these guys guard every position,” Crowder said. “… We had a good flow.”
After Kings coach Dave Joerger spoke pregame about the need for his team to consistently push the ball, the Kings only really ever got the pace in their favor in the frenetic third period. Maybe part of it was being tired after a wire-to-wire battle the previous night against the Warriors. Then again, the strong transition defense the Jazz finally displayed in Los Angeles seemed to travel upstate with them.
Utah mostly frustrated Sacramento’s efforts to get out and run, holding the Kings to a season-low 13 fast-break points. The Jazz, meanwhile, further controlled the game’s flow by getting transition buckets of their own, leading to an abundance of open shots, which the team converted with great efficiency. (The Jazz shot 53.3 percent for the game.)
Not that it seemed especially likely to go that way after yet another subpar start to a game. Utah’s first five possessions included two misses, three turnovers, and a 7-0 deficit. This time, however, the team didn’t wait so long to fight back.
“We didn’t play well at the beginning of the game, but we were poised,” said coach Quin Snyder. “And our bench was terrific tonight. The guys that came in the game all played a high level and continued to guard, which is the most important thing.”
Rubio, though, was the catalyst. With the Kings sagging off of screens, he drained two 3s. Then, with them closing out, he attacked the lane. Rubio hit his first four shots and had nine points in the game’s first five minutes. He finished the first frame 7 of 8 for 16 points — a career-high for a quarter.
He also made 3 of 4 in he second quarter, and was up to 23 points by halftime, as the Jazz built a 59-50 lead.
“We played against them a week ago, and I know their game plan was letting me shoot, so I was ready for that,” Rubio said. “Plus, Donovan wasn’t in the game, so I had be a little more aggressive. It went in a couple times, and I kept shooting.”
Snyder was pleased with the balance his point guard — who also totaled seven rebounds and five assists – brought to the game.
“Anytime he can get going, he’s allowed to do that. When he’s got open looks, we want him to take them,” Snyder said. “…He may pass something up in order to get someone else the ball, but I think he knew tonight his scoring was important.”
The Kings finally found their pace in the third quarter, getting out on the break, hitting 3s, and whittling an extended Jazz lead back to single digits while Rubio sat on the bench with four fouls.
The Jazz pushed back with ball movement and consistently finding the open man (they would finish with 30 assists on 49 made baskets). A pair of back-to-back 3-pointers by Ingles and rookie Grayson Allen stopped the bleeding.
“Offensively, the ball was moving. That’s how we need to play,” Snyder said. “If we do that, and we’re patient, the ball usually finds somebody.”
The Kings had thrown their best punch. The Jazz absorbed it, smiled, then landed some haymakers of their own.
The question of who would step up for Mitchell answered, the Jazz are now faced with another: how will they respond in the second half of a back-to-back, as they’ll face the Indiana Pacers on Monday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena?
“We’ve been trying to build off each game — we’ve got to take this with us tomorrow night back at home,” Crowder said. “… We’ll be fine as like as we keep to our principles and keep it in focus.”
In the meantime, though, that could wait for a bit. They just wanted to savor being back on the winning side. Not that they would go overboard with it, of course. Asked if this was the best his team had played recently in terms of merging efficient offense with stingy defense, Snyder smiled.
“I’m not ready to hand out superlatives,” he said. “I think we played better. I wanna keep playing better.”
Then he walked away and stepped through a doorway to the locker room, before poking his head out and yelling back, “That means yes!”
JAZZ 133, KINGS 112
• With Donovan Mitchell sidelined, Utah has six players score in double-figures, led by 27 from Ricky Rubio.
• The Jazz take advantage of strong ball movement, totaling 30 assists and shooting 53.3 percent from the field.
• Utah’s transition defense holds Sacramento to a season-low 13 fast-break points.