On Tuesday night, the Utah Jazz showed they could win a game in spite of two of their top players performing poorly. On Wednesday night, the Jazz showed they could win a game in spite of not having two of their top players at all.
Even with Donovan Mitchell sidelined by a concussion and Derrick Favors sitting out due to lower back soreness, Utah still dominated the rusty-and-sputtering Dallas Mavericks, 116-104, to earn their 10th consecutive win and at least momentarily assume the NBA’s best record at 14-4.
Jordan Clarkson (31), Rudy Gobert (29) and Joe Ingles (21) all poured in season-best scoring efforts. Deeper-rotation guys such as Georges Niang, Miye Oni, and Juwan Morgan stepped up and performed well in niche roles.
And the Jazz proved that, playing collectively, they are a force to be reckoned with.
“I really think that’s probably the first time since I’ve been here that I’ve seen that much focus from every single one in this locker room,” said Gobert, who added 20 rebounds, three blocks and three steals. “I really feel like we’re playing for something bigger, and that we are on a mission.”
Prior to the game, Quin Snyder noted that with Mitchell — the team’s top scoring option — in the NBA’s concussion protocol, the Jazz would simply need to keep doing what they have been, with everyone playing a part.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, meanwhile, noted that given the way the Jazz have been playing during their winning streak, they were well-positioned to overcome the All-Star’s absence: “This is a team that’s really tied together … the type of team that can lose a player like Mitchell for a game and survive it.”
Utah did more than survive — they thoroughly dominated, the final score made close only by a sloppy fourth quarter that saw them manage only 16 points.
Ingles, who not only shed his reluctant-shooter skin in aggressively launching 11 shots from beyond the arc (making seven), but who also racked up eight assists, including a pair of third-quarter alley-oops, said what’s stood out to him over the course of these past 10 games is Utah’s combination of hunger and humility.
“It’s great to be winning games, and obviously we’re playing at a high level, but I just think we’re not satisfied,” he said. “… It’s just a really fun group to play with. We play for each other, there’s no egos involved — it’s not as unsalvageable as people think.”
Clarkson, regarded as a remorseless chucker for much of his career prior to being traded to Utah, agreed with his teammate.
Though he powered the first-half offense in Mitchell’s absence, scoring 22 of his 31 points before the break, he noted that there was no feeling in his mind that he had to step up offensively, that he had to go outside of the norm in order to fill the void.
The plan was to stick to the plan.
“I played similar minutes to what I’m used to playing, in similar positions to what I’m used to being in. Roles didn’t change — we just had to keep playing in our system and keep doing what we’re doing,” said Clarkson. “… Here is just a different vibe; everybody knows their role and everybody’s happy for each other. It’s almost like we get more happy when we get our teammates a shot than when we’re scoring the ball, to be honest with you. It’s just a crazy feeling, a crazy vibe that we have, that we appreciate that the ball doesn’t stick.”
That collective effort was apparent against the Mavs in myriad phases of the game.
Sometimes it was Ingles and Gobert or Mike Conley and Gobert pick-and-rolling Kristaps Porzingis and the Dallas defense into oblivion. Sometimes it was Clarkson, Niang, Morgan, Conley and Oni confusing the Mavs with a well-executed zone defense on one possession, then flustering them with flawless switches and rotations in man-to-man the next.
The end result was that, even on a night when the Jazz went a good-if-not-epic 16 for 41 from 3-point range, they had more than enough firepower on both ends of the court to roll past Dallas — simply by virtue of everyone doing what was asked of them.
“They really are doing the same things that they’ve done over the course of the season — just doing them more because they were in the game more,” Snyder pointed out. “Everybody collectively played off each other. It was those guys tonight and it stood out because Donovan and Fav were out, but those guys have done the same thing of late in a lot of games. The balance that we have is one of the strengths of our team. … It’s nothing that they’re doing consciously. They’re just playing the game, playing together.”
The impressive thing is, knowing they had the league’s best record as a result of their win and the Lakers’ loss in Philadelphia didn’t impress them.
They’re not worried about what anyone else says or thinks about them. They’re completely unconcerned with where they rate in anyone’s power rankings. All that matters is continuing to improve, continuing to focus on themselves, knowing that there’s always another opponent coming up.
“We try and find mismatches, we play the right way, we’re unselfish, we defend. … So yes, it’s been fun, but we’re not satisfied,” Ingles said. “We’re not going to get overhyped over one win or 10 in a row or whatever it is. We’ll go in tomorrow and get ready for the next one.”
JAZZ 116, MAVERICKS 104
Key moment • With Rudy Gobert on the bench, the Jazz defense executes a series of brilliant switches that keep the Dallas attack at bay.
Big number: 4 • The Jazz take over the league’s best record as a result of having the fewest defeats, just four.
Up next • The Jazz and Mavericks will be at it again Friday in the finale of Utah’s six-game homestand.