On paper, Wednesday night’s matchup between the Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets was one befitting an 8 p.m. tipoff intended to accommodate a slot in the back half of an ESPN doubleheader.
And then Brooklyn — on the second night of a back-to-back — brought only its junior varsity team.
No Kevin Durant, no James Harden, no Kyrie Irving, no Blake Griffin … no problem for the locked-in Jazz, who steamrolled the likes of Bruce Brown, Chris Chiozza and Alize Johnson 118-88 at Vivint Arena.
After making 11 of their first 15 shots, the Jazz apparently bored of playing with their food and momentarily let the Nets creep back within a dozen points early in the second quarter. One Quin Snyder tongue-lashing later and the lull was ended, the possibility of a trap game erased.
“We’re not going to change how we play or our mindset because guys aren’t in the game. That’s what we showed tonight,” said Donovan Mitchell, who finished with 27 points, seven assists, and six rebounds in just 27 minutes of action. “We’ve had instances in my time here where we’ve played differently because guys have been out; tonight really showed the mental fortitude we had throughout the entire game to continue to to keep our foot on the pedal.”
As a result, the rest of Wednesday’s proceedings became little more than an extended opportunity to iron out some nagging problem areas.
For starters, with the victory secured as early as it was, Utah could afford to run a few extra plays for Bojan Bogdanovic in an effort to get the struggling sharpshooter back on track.
After admitting in the aftermath of the morning shootaround that he was going through the worst shooting slump of his career, the forward got off to yet another rough start — scoring but a single point and attempting just a single field-goal try in the first quarter.
Except that time, with a 38-17 lead in hand, the Jazz could afford to keep setting him up and getting the ball. When a second-quarter 3-point attempt went in, he was relieved.
His teammates, meanwhile, were thrilled.
Rudy Gobert gave him both a low-five and a pat on the butt. Mitchell pumped his fist exuberantly near the half-court logo.
Bogdanovic would go on to hit 5 of 8 shots overall, including 4 of 6 from deep in totaling 18 points, three rebounds and three assists.
“It was a little bit easier today — even [though] I started the game again with two easy misses. But I stick with the game, I had a couple of open ones later on,” Bogdanovic said. “I gotta be more focused at the beginning of the game so don’t start every single game 0 for 3 or 0 for 4. It’s great to see the ball go in. So I hope that I’m going to I’m going to be back and play way better now than I was before.”
The Jazz’s bench unit, meanwhile, also got plenty of extended run, with mixed results.
Formerly-incendiary Joe Ingles cooled back down, hitting just 1 of 6 tries from 3-point range one game after moving to exactly 50% from beyond the arc this season. Jordan Clarkson, mired in a slightly-lesser slump than Bogey, had a miserable performance, forcing up one bad look after another and not connecting — finishing with three points on 1-for-15 shooting.
Derrick Favors (six points, 10 rebounds, two blocks) and Georges Niang (15 points on 5 of 8 from deep) were solid.
Youngsters such as Miye One and Trent Forrest were on the court with about three-quarters of the fourth quarter to play. Veteran newbie Ersan Ilyasova joined them about a minute later. Juwan Morgan, rookie second-round pick Elijah Hughes, and second-year forward Jarrell Brantley closed out the proceedings.
Snyder said there was no shortage of areas to focus on.
“The defensive glass, the transition defense, those are things that — no matter who’s in the game for us or our opponent — we want to execute and focus on,” Snyder said. “When they’re switching pick-and-roll, we have a tendency to get stagnant in those situations that we haven’t seen that a little bit. … We were a little stagnant and a little indecisive. And that’s something we’ve got to continue to work on and improve .”
This may have been a schedule victory, preordained to go Utah’s way the minute the league’s powers that be decided to send the postseason-eyeing Nets to Salt Lake City one night after they eked out a hard-fought win in Portland.
Regardless, the Jazz took it for what it was — an opportunity to recalibrate their mojo, to get their bearings at home again after playing nine of their past 10 on the road, and to shrug off for good their prior downturn, earning their fourth win in six games in the process.