How do you replace a guy who’s not just your leading scorer, but on such an epic tear that he’s been the second-leading scorer in the NBA post-All-Star break, in the event he goes down with a serious injury?
Well, Monday night was a pretty promising template for the Utah Jazz.
While they certainly hope they’re not without Donovan Mitchell on account of his sprained right ankle for too extended a period, they certainly showed they have the depth and balance to not fall apart without him.
In their runaway 111-97 victory against the Lakers that upgraded their record to 43-15 on the season, the Jazz utilized impressive ball movement and aggressive-but-sound defense. They had six players score in double-figures, two of whom turned in double-doubles.
Not that coach Quin Snyder would concede there was anything different.
“Well, that’s who we are when we have Don, you know?” he said. “I mean, that’s who our team is.”
Fair enough. The most noticeable difference between Monday’s win and Saturday’s overtimes loss was, of course, not having Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley and Derrick Favors missing from the rotation.
Interestingly, when asked ahead of Saturday’s game about the impact on the Jazz of missing their All-Star backcourt of Mitchell and Conley, Lakers coach Frank Vogel candidly replied that the more significant difference, in his estimation, was the absence of Gobert and Favors.
He certainly appeared correct in the rematch.
After Andre Drummond went at the likes of Ersan Ilyasova and Juwan Morgan to the tune of 27 points on Saturday, the Jazz’s two regular bigs certainly made an impact the second time around.
On this occasion, Drummond struggled with his counterpart’s length and physicality, settling for quick-flip shot attempts that were off-target all evening. This time, he totaled just eight points on 3-for-12 shooting. The league’s top rebounder also grabbed just eight boards.
While Favors praised Ilyasova for his effort the other day, he also noted, “He’s not a rim-protector.” The presence of the team’s typical centers changed the dynamic of this game.
Gobert, in particular, was dominant on both ends — totaling 14 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks, and generally making life miserable for any Laker who dared to venture inside.
The Frenchman, of course, had plenty of help.
“We have a lot of talent — it’s definitely a blessing for our team. And that’s why we’re able — when some of the starters come out — to still have a very good team,” said Gobert. “We have eight, nine guys that would probably start for most of the teams in this league. So it’s a luxury. Obviously Donovan is a unique player, but even when he’s out, we’ve got guys that are able to play and do things for this team.”
For instance, Royce O’Neale was aggressive early, scoring the first five points of the game, as he did not hesitate on an open 3, then ran the court in transition following a turnover, got a pass, and converted a layup. He would finish with 13 points (on 5 of 5 from the field and 3 of 3 from deep), nine rebounds, five assists, and two blocks.
Conley’s return to action gave the team another orchestrator, and he delivered with aplomb, racking up eight assists in the first quarter alone and finishing with 10 for the game, to go along with 14 points.
With Conley directing traffic, Joe Ingles was freed up snipe away, which he did. He hit 5 of 8 from deep in the game, and dropped 13 of his 21 points in the decisive third quarter, while adding five assists and four rebounds.
Meanwhile, Jordan Clarkson led the team in scoring again — this time with 22 off the bench on an efficient 9 for 14. And Bojan Bogdanovic added 19 points, four rebounds and three assists.
The Jazz shot 57.3% overall and went 15 of 33 (45.5%) from deep. They racked up 29 assists on 43 made baskets. After the Lakers hit 9 tribes in the opening half, the perimeter defense tightened up, yielding just three after the break. And with Gobert and Favors holding down the middle, L.A. managed to make just 18 of 40 shots in the paint.
No star shooting guard? No big deal.
At least not on this occasion, with everyone else stepping up like that.
“Just keep playing basketball,” O’Neale said is his usual low-key, understated way. “I mean, whether [Mitchell is] playing or not, we have a great team.”