SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell spoke up.
Rayjon Tucker was busy complimenting all the players around him, but when Mitchell heard his name, he quickly jumped in.
“I didn’t do anything,” Mitchell said to Tucker.
For the second straight game, Mitchell was ill. Bojan Bogdanovic said the star guard was sick after Wednesday’s game. And Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder said it following Friday’s 109-92 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
Snyder only confirmed what was getting pretty obvious to see. Mitchell looked tired, was breathing heavy during stops in play and didn’t have his normal energy. He had just 4 points and four assists in 22 minutes.
‘Basically, he fought through some stuff tonight,” Snyder said. “When you look — what did he have, 4 points or something? — he still defends and other guys have an opportunity to score but he didn't let his teammates down on the defensive end.”
And his teammates didn’t let Mitchell down on the offensive end, either. Jordan Clarkson had 20 points, Bojan Bogdanovic had 16, Rudy Gobert and Goerges Niang added 15 apiece, and the Jazz had six players finish in double figures.
Utah shot 50.6% from the field, 43% from the 3-point line and assisted on 28 of its 40 made field goals.
“We are doing some good things, just how we are sharing the ball and we had some issues spacing early in the year,” Snyder said. “We just didn’t kind of have an idea how to be in the right spot for one another. To me, that is the biggest part of our connectivity. Guys are spaced where they can be available for a pass and we have some guys, I mean, Emmanuel (Mudiay) getting in the lane and poised in the lane and controlling the game and finding people. He must have had three or four assists that were his pass out and one more — a hockey (assist).”
The praise could go on and on for the Jazz after Friday’s game.
How Gobert anchored a suffocating defensive effort by blocking five blocks and eating up possession after possession.
How Niang came off the bench and hit five 3-pointers.
How Bogdanovic started things off by scoring 11 points to push the Jazz to a 16-point lead in the first quarter.
How the Jazz as a team simply dominated the Hornets for 48 minutes.
Utah allowed just 13 points in the first quarter (and the Hornets needed a buzzer-beater to reach that) and led by as many as 33 points in the second half on its way to one of the easiest wins of the season. That they were able to be that dominant with their top offensive player being limited with illness, is a testament to the strength of the team as a whole.
“I think we just kind of made it tough on them from the start,” said Joe Ingles, who had 11 points. “The flip side of that is when you are able to score on the other side of getting stops, the game is a bit easier. I think we got off to a good start, but we played 48 minutes and the guys who finished the game played just as well as the guys who started it.”
Remember when the Jazz bench was the team’s Achilles’ heel? Led by Clarkson and Niang, Utah’s reserves scored 56 points on Friday. And it wasn’t just in garbage time. The bench had 23 points before halftime to help Utah build a comfortable lead.
“The bench has been great, hasn’t it?” Niang said, joking about the criticism the unit faced earlier in the year. “No, obviously the guys who are on the bench unit throughout the whole year, we take pride in our minutes and things like that, so getting out there and trying to make an impact for our starters is something big for us. I think with Jordan, Rayjon and those guys coming in and instilling life — when something new happens, you kind of have that energy shot in because they are new faces and bringing new energy, but now it is on us to sustain that going forward.”
The Jazz have been sustaining their winning ways for a while now. Yes, the schedule has been light, but lately, the wins have become more and more convincing.
Utah won its eighth straight game and is now 13-1 in its last 14 games.
“It is going to be a great challenge for us to carry this on not on home court, to go on the road again and beat good teams,” Bogdanovic said. “In every aspect, we can still improve.”
Getting a healthy Mitchell back won’t be a bad place to start.