CHARLOTTE — Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz's 99-88 loss over the Charlotte Hornets from KSL.com's Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Donovan Mitchell plays brilliantly with 3.5 quarters, then goes on tilt
Donovan Mitchell scored 10 points in the first quarter, 12 in the second, and 9 in the third to enter the fourth quarter with 31 points, and a chance to beat his season and career-high of 41. He was the single-handed source of the Jazz's offense for three quarters; Royce O'Neale was the only other Jazz player in double digits.
Mitchell needed a rest, so he re-entered the game with 8:13 left. And he hit his next shot, an assisted three after a pump-fake to get to 34 points. That tied the score at 85.
After that, Mitchell simply tried to do too much over and over again, taking some bad shots, making some worse turnovers. You understand why he felt that he needed to win this game by himself, but in the end, Mitchell predictably leading the attack meant Charlotte could easily stop the Jazz.
Let's start with the good: Mitchell had some plays throughout the game that showed off just how talented he is. His highlight reel is a familiar combination of alley-oop dunks, great finishes at the rim, and deep 3-point shooting.
And the bad: after this timeout, Mitchell gets literally triple teamed, and he ends up throwing the ball off a Charlotte defender's hand.
A couple of Mitchell turnovers. On this one, he gets trapped a little bit, and then his pass out gets deflected: pic.twitter.com/YgIjTDpXKZ— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) January 13, 2018
Here, he drives in isolation, but because there's no screen, his defender is able to do a pretty good job of sticking with Mitchell. So there's not a huge need for Charlotte to help, and so when Mitchell tries to pass, it just gets picked off, there aren't any open players to pass to.
And on this one, honestly, Kemba plays some great defense to force the pass despite playing 1-on-1, and there aren't any open options for Mitchell to pass it to. pic.twitter.com/oMcbhMpd4U— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) January 13, 2018
In the end, it was four turnovers, four missed field goals and a missed free throw by Mitchell in the game's final 14 possessions. That gives you an idea of how big of a role Mitchell took on his shoulders, and how much of it went poorly. The score followed, as Charlotte went on a 15-4 run to win the game.
"The only thing I'm thinking of is that I turned the ball over four times," Mitchell repeatedly said post-game tonight. "They changed their coverages, and I've been making those adjustments all year and for some reason didn't tonight ... I don't know what the hell I did tonight."
Mitchell is so hard on himself when he makes even small mistakes, but repeated ones like this had him fuming. That's a great sign from the rookie, actually. He cares! And yes, Charlotte's run at the end of the game is on Mitchell more than any other player, but that's exactly what this season is for: giving Mitchell the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. He's already proven himself to be the Jazz's best healthy player this season, and now he's pushing himself to take those next steps.
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder was confident too. "He struggled late in a playmaking position. He's figuring things out," Snyder said. "People are starting to be more aggressive with him. But what we're seeing from him is he's someone who embraces those things and learns from his mistakes."
We'll see what he comes back with after a weekend of work when given a chance to play the Indiana Pacers on Monday.
2. No-shows from the starters
And while Mitchell can learn from his mistakes, the biggest reason that he felt like he had to take on such a big load was the lack of contributions from anyone else in the lineup.
Joe Ingles was a team-low -21 tonight, with two points on 1-6 shooting, missing all three of his open three-point looks. On Ingles pick-and-rolls, teams usually give Ingles the mid-range shot. He usually declines. Tonight, the Hornets took that strategy to the extreme. Dwight Howard was dropping to essentially the restricted area, daring Ingles to shoot the mid-ranger. He made one, but mostly chose to playmake out of it, to some success (six assists) and some failure (three turnovers).
Derrick Favors looked like a man who is playing with a sprained ankle and also may be somewhat in his head after being named in trade rumors all week. He got a hand on numerous rebounds, but ended up only being able to tip most of them, ending up with just seven boards. On offense, he was hardly involved at all: five points, four shots. Part of that was how the Hornets were dropping off of the Jazz's guards early, yes.
Ricky Rubio was pretty typical "2017-18 season Rubio." That is to say, he took probably a couple more shots than you would have liked, had only four assists, played great defense at times and not-so-great at others, and ultimately was pulled to space the floor around Mitchell at the end of the game.
Thabo Sefolosha was playing quite well, with seven points on 3-of-5 shooting, but sprained his right knee and was announced out for the rest of the game in the third quarter. Joe Johnson and Jonas Jerebko had pretty iffy games when inserted for Sefolosha.
For Jazz fans, it's a little bit disturbing how little help Mitchell got on the floor. This team needs an additional playmaker, and some better play finishers, in order to compete nightly.
3. Royce O'Neale jumps over Alec Burks in the rotation
Alec Burks was a DNP-CD on Friday night as Snyder turned to one of the leading contributors in Wednesday's effort, Royce O'Neale.
O'Neale had another good game in 19 minutes off the bench: he scored 11 points on 3-6 shooting and added 10 rebounds. Because he was on the floor for much of Charlotte's run at the end, he ended up as a -1 in the plus-minus column, but he was a large part of the effort that kept Utah afloat for three quarters.
I think my favorite play in tonight's highlight reel is his transition finish over Howard (28 seconds in the above video). With Howard backpedaling in transition, O'Neale gets his shoulder around Howard to get the advantage. Howard does a good job of not fouling, but O'Neale still makes the tough layup off the top part of the backboard.
That's the kind of play you typically see more experienced attacking guards make. O'Neale is a guard who hasn't ever scored more than 12 points per game at any level he's played at since high school, not even the University of Denver.
The biggest reason he's in the game, though, is his defensive effort when compared to Burks. O'Neale is a smart, tough defender, and he showed it tonight in a pretty solid defensive performance by the Jazz, even in the loss.
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