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Donovan Mitchell, alternately incendiary and ‘unselfish as hell,’ carries the Utah Jazz to their fifth straight win

All-Star guard’s 36-point, nine-assist night powers Utah’s 122-108 victory over Boston.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jaylen Brown (7), shoots as Utah Jazz center Derrick Favors (15) defends, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Boston Celtics, at Vivint Arena, on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.

It was a simple missed free throw by Tristan Thompson. No big deal — you secure the rebound, walk the ball up the court, set up a play, try to patiently execute.

Nope. Donovan Mitchell had other ideas.

The All-Star guard grabbed the board and took off sprinting, shocking the scrambling Celtics defenders as he attacked the lane.

They were so caught off guard by his aggressive transition push that they didn’t notice Joe Ingles standing alone in the right corner. Mitchell did, though, flipping him the ball for a 3 that softly settled through the net and turned a meager four-point lead into a seven-point one with just over 3 minutes to play Tuesday night at Vivint Arena.

Not quite a minute later, he surveyed the scene from the left wing and stepped into a rainbow 3-pointer from 30 feet out — a bucket that simultaneously put the Jazz up 11 and brought the house down. There was 2:09 left on the clock, but that was effectively the ball game.

Final tally: Utah Jazz 122, Boston Celtics 108. Five straight wins, and 16 in the past 17 games. Also, an NBA-best 20-5 record.

That’s the best start in franchise history.

[Read The Triple Team: This Jazz team is more aggressive this year, and it shows on both ends of the court in win vs. Celtics]

Mitchell certainly didn’t do it all by himself — Rudy Gobert was dominant down low on both ends, making 8 of 9 shots and racking up 18 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and three assists; Joe Ingles let loose some on-court aggressiveness, dialing up 11 3-point tries and getting to the free-throw line for 10 attempts en route to a 24-point, six-assist performance; Bojan Bogdanovic was hitting timely shots and boxing out to snag eight rebounds; even Miye Oni had some spectacular defensive sequences guarding All-Star Jayson Tatum, who shot just 7 for 20 on the night.

So, no, Mitchell didn’t do it by himself. But the Jazz also certainly couldn’t have won this game without him taking his game to another level.

“With how gifted he is on the offensive end,” Ingles said, “the last five minutes, there was no question we’re just going to give it to him and let him create.”

Which he did — again and again.

In case anyone on the court was unaware that his rainbow 3 was the game’s coda, Mitchell drove the point home on the next possession with a step-back 3 for the last of his 36 points. And on the next possession, when he lobbed an alley-oop to Gobert. And on the next possession, too, when his ninth assist of the game produced yet another Gobert alley-oop.

He finished the game by contributing to 20 of Utah’s final 21 points — either by scoring himself or assisting on someone else’s bucket.

“What goes into that is the trust factor that I’ve had since I got here from my teammates and coaches. And in myself. I’m always going to be confident in my abilities and what I can do; but the trust factor allows myself to be in that position,” Mitchell said. “… Winning is everything. And I’m gonna go out there and make the plays that are necessary, whether it’s scoring, some days it’s passing — there are gonna be games where I go 0 for 10, 0 for 15. But, ‘by any means necessary’ is pretty much the motto that I have. Just finding ways to win the game, and everything else will kind of take care of itself.”

With Mike Conley missing a second consecutive game due to right hamstring tightness, it was on Mitchell and Ingles to again fill the playmaking void.

Gobert, when asked where Mitchell has most improved over the course of his four years in Utah, had an immediate and decisive response.

“Decision-making. He’s really able to understand the tempo of the game and be able to find his teammates,” the center explained. “I think he’s improved every single year. But this year is really where I feel like — especially the last few weeks — when he’s been on his best. And when he does that, the team just goes to another level.”

Ingles agreed.

“First and foremost, he’s unselfish as hell,” the Aussie said. “… I think he’s seen damn near every coverage you could probably throw at him. They’ve switched with him, they’ve blitzed him — being as smart as he is as a player, being able to read the game, and then obviously the unselfishness is something that kind of ties it all together for him.”

Coach Quin Snyder noted that Mitchell’s progress is not simply year over year, but, lately, even “possession by possession.

“His efficiency in pick-and-roll is something he takes great pride in. His ability to get people involved and then pick his spots — particularly when he feels the game and [is] not forcing himself on the game,” Snyder added. “Donovan, like our team, he just wants to get better and he’s not going to be satisfied.”

Jazz 122, Celtics 108

BOSTON (108)

Tatum 7-20 8-8 23, Theis 5-8 0-0 15, Thompson 3-7 1-2 7, Brown 12-20 6-8 33, Walker 2-12 2-2 7, Ojeleye 2-4 0-0 5, Williams 4-8 0-1 9, Williams III 2-3 2-2 6, Pritchard 1-4 0-0 3, Teague 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 38-86 19-23 108.

UTAH (122)

Bogdanovic 6-12 2-2 16, O'Neale 3-6 0-0 9, Gobert 8-9 2-3 18, Ingles 5-12 9-10 24, Mitchell 12-23 6-7 36, Favors 1-3 2-2 4, Niang 1-3 0-0 2, Oni 0-1 0-0 0, Clarkson 4-15 3-3 13. Totals 40-84 24-27 122.

Boston 27 20 32 29 — 108

Utah 24 24 42 32 — 122

3-Point Goals_Boston 13-29 (Theis 5-6, Brown 3-6, Ojeleye 1-2, Williams 1-3, Pritchard 1-4, Tatum 1-4, Walker 1-4), Utah 18-48 (Mitchell 6-13, Ingles 5-11, O’Neale 3-4, Bogdanovic 2-7, Clarkson 2-10, Niang 0-2). Fouled Out_Boston 1 (Theis), Utah None. Rebounds_Boston 35 (Brown 8), Utah 41 (Gobert 12). Assists_Boston 18 (Walker 7), Utah 28 (Mitchell 9). Total Fouls_Boston 25, Utah 22. A_3,902 (18,306)

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