It was pretty apparent that the Utah Jazz missed Mike Conley during the stretches when Donovan Mitchell went to the bench on Saturday night.
Fortunately, Mitchell was so ridiculously, obscenely brilliant when he was out there, Conley’s night off for hamstring injury maintenance hardly mattered.
For the second consecutive night, Mitchell obliterated the Memphis Grizzlies, this time racking up 28 first-half points on a mere 12 shots en route to a 35-point evening overall and a 126-110 victory by the Jazz.
“The biggest thing was just being aggressive. Obviously with Mike out, the ball’s in my hands and Joe’s hands a lot more, and I just knew that with a man down, everybody has to raise their level, and I just did it through scoring,” Mitchell said. “Some days it’s passing, some days it’s rebounding, some days it’s defense — it’s about doing whatever is necessary. And that was just my mindset, just to be aggressive, understanding they were gonna come out and play hard after last night.
“I think we all, as a group, did a great job of continuing to apply pressure throughout the entire game,” he added.
Mitchell was doing that from the outset Saturday, erasing an early 8-2 deficit by drilling an open 3, then driving the lane for an old-fashioned three-point play, as he converted the layup-and-one.
The fourth-year guard displayed an uncanny confidence throughout — routinely stepping into walk-up 3s, and drilling them with ease. One of them made it Grizzlies 13, Mitchell 13, as the Jazz surged ahead by seven. His last bucket of the opening half was a walk-up shot from about 30 feet out, just beating the halftime horn.
Mitchell’s success on this occasion came from simply taking what the defense was giving him. When Memphis crowded him off the line, he drove in, circumnavigated to an open spot in the midrange, then buried the unperturbed look. And when the Grizzlies dropped off a step to counter the drive, he’d utilize a screen from Rudy Gobert or Derrick Favors to generate some space behind the line.
“He was just getting to his spots,” said Royce O’Neale. “Donovan, you know he can get hot real quick. We gave him the ball and let him get going. His efficiency this year has been great — him finding open guys, and then just being more comfortable with the shots that they’re giving to him.”
While the Grizzlies had some second-quarter success with a zone defense, Mitchell even busted that eventually.
First, he found a seam that enabled him to get to the rim. On the next possession, Favors swallowed up both Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks on a screen, and Mitchell calmly drained a triple. On the possession after that, he split a double-team like it was the easiest thing in the world, drew the defense, then dished to Jordan Clarkson in the corner.
Just like that, Utah had an 8-0 run that padded its advantage from nine points to 17.
The 28 points Mitchell racked up before the break were the most he’s ever scored in a half. Still, he was hardly just gunning for his own shot all night — he also proved an adept playmaker, too.
On the first play of the third quarter, he beat Brooks off the dribble, got into the lane, then found Joe Ingles in the left corner for a 3. A few plays later, he worked the other side of the court, had the same success getting into the lane, then located O’Neale on the right wing for another triple.
He finished with seven assists.
“Watching Donovan evolve as a player, there’s obviously more there — he’s hungry,” said coach Quin Snyder. “You know, we’ve talked a lot about his efficiency, and that was really the best thing about tonight — he was efficient in so many ways. He really didn’t force himself on the game; he had opportunities to score and he took them, he found other people, he picked his spots.”
So incendiary was his early performance that it obscured some noteworthy performances — good and bad — from his teammates.
Clarkson was almost as hot early, scoring 20 of his 28 before halftime. Gobert got fewer pick-and-roll finishes Saturday than he did Friday, but was no less dominant, totaling 16 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks. Ingles, starting again in place of Conley, notched 15 points and seven assists. O’Neale had some brilliant defense on Morant for most of the night — limiting him to 12 points on 4-for-12 shooting — and was also efficient offensively (hitting 4 of 5 shots), and aggressive on the boards (nine rebounds).
Mitchell’s scoring also made up for another rough night for Bojan Bogdanovic, who did not make a shot until the fourth quarter, and totaled only three points.
Regardless of Bogdanovic’s latest struggles, however, the Jazz still picked up their fifth consecutive win and improved to 34-11 on the season. They go into the finale of their four-game homestand Monday against the Cavaliers having won 19 in a row at Vivint Arena.
JAZZ 126, GRIZZLIES 110
Anderson 6-10 2-3 16, Brooks 5-13 2-2 13, Valanciunas 5-10 3-3 13, Allen 2-7 4-4 9, Morant 4-12 3-4 12, McDermott 1-3 2-2 4, Porter 2-2 0-0 5, Tillman 0-1 1-2 1, Tillie 1-5 1-1 3, Clarke 5-9 2-4 12, Winslow 0-7 0-0 0, Bane 3-8 0-1 7, Jones 0-2 0-0 0, Konchar 1-3 1-2 3, Melton 4-5 2-2 12. Totals 39-97 23-30 110.
Bogdanovic 1-7 0-0 3, O'Neale 4-5 0-0 10, Gobert 6-10 4-7 16, Ingles 4-7 4-4 15, Mitchell 12-17 6-6 35, Brantley 1-1 0-0 2, Favors 2-4 0-2 4, Ilyasova 0-1 0-0 0, Morgan 0-1 0-0 0, Niang 3-7 0-0 9, Oni 0-5 0-0 0, Clarkson 11-21 1-1 28, Forrest 2-3 0-0 4, Hughes 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 46-92 15-20 126.
Memphis 19 34 29 28 — 110
Utah 39 31 30 26 — 126
3-Point Goals_Memphis 9-33 (Anderson 2-3, Melton 2-3, Bane 1-2, Brooks 1-3, Morant 1-4, Allen 1-5, McDermott 0-2, Winslow 0-3, Tillie 0-4), Utah 19-45 (Mitchell 5-7, Clarkson 5-12, Ingles 3-5, Niang 3-6, O’Neale 2-3, Bogdanovic 1-2, Thomas 0-2, Oni 0-5). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Memphis 47 (Valanciunas 11), Utah 52 (Gobert 14). Assists_Memphis 24 (Anderson, Morant 4), Utah 22 (Ingles, Mitchell 7). Total Fouls_Memphis 14, Utah 22. A_5,546 (18,306)