SALT LAKE CITY — It was moments after Utah’s 109-96 win over the Orlando Magic — a win where Georges Niang matched his career-high and was the offensive spark in the decisive fourth quarter — and Donovan Mitchell couldn’t wait to praise his teammate
“Georges Niang,” Mitchell began, “he’s come a long way in his career — being doubted and whatnot — I’m really happy for him. Tonight shows how valuable he is to our team.”
Saturday also showed just much the Jazz enjoy rooting for each other.
There was pure happiness for Niang. His teammates have seen how hard he’s worked, even when the playing time wasn’t there. And they have all respected the way his levity has helped the team through some of the rough patches.
So on Saturday, when it was him who was leading a fourth-quarter charge, they were ecstatic to celebrate it.
“This is a group that enjoys when someone else steps up and that's unique,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Nobody's thinking about their game and their line, they're thinking about our game.”
That’s why the Jazz are so quick to make the extra pass (at times, even to a fault). It’s why they have bought in so heavily on the defensive end. And why Mitchell and Co. are so giddy to pour water all over teammates during walk-off interviews.
“It's rare professional sports that you find people that are just happy for other people's successes,” Niang said, appropriately enough, as his postgame interview was being interrupted by playful jeers from teammates. “So to be on this team is truly a blessing where everybody cares about everybody else's happiness and their successes. And if they're having a bad night, they can find happiness in being happy for someone else which is a blessing, especially in professional sports.”
📹| Donovan with the walk-off interview and he wants to talk about his teammates ❤️— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) January 5, 2020
"I think we have guys that genuinely love each other, and I don't use that word lightly." #WalkoffInterview | @LittleCaesarsSPpic.twitter.com/sLtxFc5VQN
Gobert described it as “fun” to watch Niang have a career scoring night even as he was limited to eight points — his lowest total since Nov. 22.
“He's been working very hard and to see that translate into the game is, it's great,” Gobert said.
Great for Niang and great for the Jazz. Since Utah made the trade for Jordan Clarkson and waived Jeff Green, the Jazz bench has played at a different level. With Niang leading the way, Utah’s bench scored 41 points on Saturday — it was averaging 26.9 points before the moves.
“I mean, the bench, you know, it really feels right,” Niang said. “We really feel like we're clicking and really jelling and playing with a ton of energy and flying around out there and it feels good. You can't really describe the feeling but when you're out there we know we're all connected and on the same page and it shows.”
That connection comes both on and off the court. And that something the Jazz believe makes them truly unique.
"I think we have guys that genuinely love each other, and I don't use that word lightly,” Mitchell said. “I think we have guys that genuinely want to be around each other and make plays for each other.”