Detroit • The Jazz missed all five shots and both of their free throws in the game’s first two minutes. Rudy Gobert had two fouls and checked out less than a minute later.
They shot just 19 percent in the opening quarter, allowed 14 points in the frame to a guy averaging just 11.6 per game for the season, and trailed by the worryingly palindromic score of 31-13 by the time the frame was over.
They looked tired, they looked overmatched, they looked for all the world like they were going to lose the game …
But they didn’t.
They rallied from multiple 18-point deficits, finally took their first lead of the game on a Gobert dunk with 8:03 left in the fourth quarter, pulled away for a stretch, then held on at the end for a 110-105 victory at Little Caesars Arena.
“The first half, but especially the first quarter, it was just one of those games in the NBA where you’re on a back-to-back and we don’t come out with the right sense of urgency. And they came out hitting everything — they were on fire. I thought we battled back, we kept our composure, different guys stepped in at different times, made contributions,” said Kyle Korver. “Donovan [Mitchell] got hot in the second half, you saw the light kinda click on for him. It was a shift in him, and he just kinda took over the game there at the end.”
Mitchell, who had just two points at halftime on 1-for-4 shooting, and was momentarily benched early in the third quarter, finished the game with 26, contributing myriad big plays along the way.
With less than 30 seconds left in the third quarter, he flew in from behind and swatted away a driving layup attempt by Bruce Brown. After Gobert gave the Jazz their initial lead, Mitchell scored back-to-back baskets. He hit Ricky Rubio for a jumper. He stole the ball from Blake Griffin and threw a perfect cross-court pass to Korver for a 3 that gave the Jazz some breathing room.
In the game’s final 2 minutes, he drilled a 3, put in a layup to expand the lead to seven, and then, with 22 seconds left and the advantage whittled to two, he hit a dagger pull-up jumper that effectively sealed the deal.
After the game, he conceded that a Pistons fan who had been heckling him all game finally sparked something in him.
“I just became more aggressive. I stopped listening to the guy in the corner. He said something to me, and it really just snapped for me,” Mitchell said. “I don’t know what it was, and it shouldn’t take somebody to say something to me for me to play how I did, but that’s what happened.”
Mitchell was caught on video, late in the game, yelling at someone, “It’s your fault. You did this.”
The win drew Utah to a level .500 on the season at 20-20 overall.
The comeback actually began in earnest in the second quarter, as a 12-0 run trimmed a 38-20 deficit down to six points.
Joe Ingles overcame a sloppy start to get up to 11 points by halftime, while Ricky Rubio had 10, and Derrick Favors added nine.
Detroit’s Reggie Bullock, meanwhile, who lit up the team in the first quarter, didn’t score at all in the second, as Utah’s defense tightened up — something that continued after halftime.
“Our defense allowed us to get back in the game,” said coach Quin Snyder. “Deflections — we had 22 deflections in the second half. Which means we had a great activity. On a back-to-back, particularly, to be able to find that when not starting the game as precise as we needed to be, was really good.”
After starting poorly Friday night in Cleveland, then repeating the slow beginning again Saturday, the Jazz could have been concerned.
Instead, both Mitchell and Snyder found solace in the team’s “persistence,” something that Jae Crowder agreed with.
“Things are not gonna be perfect for us through the course of the game — you’ve just got to fight through,” he said. “You saw a team tonight fight through a lot of adversity and able to come out and get the win.”
It helps, of course, when Mitchell plays like he did at the end.
“As a young guy, we ask a lot of him. As good as he is, he’s still finding his way and kinda learning what it takes to be great every night in an 82-game season,” said Korver. “I’m really impressed with him as a person, and his willingness to take on the responsibility of being the best player for a franchise. It’s a lot, and he handles it well. He didn’t have his best first half, and maybe the beginning of the third quarter, but he decided he’d had enough and took over the game.”