Donovan Mitchell vs. Ben Simmons. Rudy Gobert vs. Joel Embiid.
The bright lights were on the stars in a nationally televised game in Vivint Arena on Thursday night. But in the end, it was the Philadelphia 76ers — the whole team — that just blew out the Utah Jazz 114-97 thanks to a dominant second-half performance.
“It can’t be an individual matchup. It’s about helping your team win. Obviously, that means taking the challenge of a matchup, but that’s the best way to be successful, to not build it into your mind like that,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said before the game.
As much as the stars involved said the right things about it being a team game, that the matchups involved didn’t matter to them, their play on the court early said otherwise. Mitchell looked to drive and score on Simmons, while Simmons looked to make his presence known by taking a majority of the shots in the first quarter as boos rained down from the pro-Mitchell crowd.
The early game went well for the Jazz, and the team got out to a 7-point lead late in the first quarter. That was thanks to a new wrinkle since the Jazz had last played the Sixers in Philadelphia: Since that Jazz loss, the team completed the Alec Burks for Kyle Korver trade. Korver immediately made an impact, scoring 10 points in his first stint off the bench.
From there, it all went downhill.
A very loose second quarter from the Jazz, which they lost by a margin of 35-23, earned the Sixers a five-point halftime lead. And they quickly expanded it shortly after halftime, with a 12-3 run that pushed it to 14. The Jazz offense struggled to find any sort of rhythm, as bad shot after bad shot found its way to the outside of the iron. When the Jazz went inside, they found the long arms of Embiid waiting: they made just 10 of their 23 shots at the rim.
More worrying for Snyder, though, was the uncharacteristic defensive performance from a Jazz team that had found its groove on that end of the floor in recent weeks. But against Philadelphia, the Sixers’ best players found easy looks.
Some of it was miscommunication: Jimmy Butler got wide open for dunks four times in the contest, he finished with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Some was Embiid’s size, proving a unique challenge for the Jazz to defend in the post, and he scored 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting. J.J. Redick’s knockdown outside shot (6 of 9 from deep) gave him 24 points, and Simmons was in the middle of it all, accumulating a triple-double before the end of the third quarter.
Even when the Jazz did end up forcing a miss, the offensive glass came through for the Sixers, as they scored 16 second-chance points on the night.
The early fourth quarter was more of the same, stretching the Sixers’ lead to 23 points at its largest. And while the Jazz went on a mini-run that did enough to keep the starters in the game, the matter was settled well before the end.
Mitchell led the Jazz in scoring with 23 points, while the play of Dante Exum off the bench was a lone bright spot in the game, scoring 20 points in his 21 minutes on the court.
The loss pushes the Jazz back to two games below .500, and guarantees that they won’t find their way to even until 2019. Their last game of 2018 comes Saturday at home against the New York Knicks.