Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Bojan Bogdanovic jumped to catch the ball and then flipped a pass behind his back for a pass all before he hit the ground. It's pretty telling when that's not even the most impressive moment — or even pass — of a possession.
At their current level of play, the Utah Jazz are almost in a state of one-upmanship.
"It's almost like we're competing with ourselves," Rudy Gobert said on Thursday.
Makes sense considering not many opposing teams have been able to challenge them.
The Milwaukee Bucks were the latest to try (and fail), leaving Salt Lake City on Friday after taking a 129-115 loss to what is currently the best team in the NBA. The Jazz improved to 21-5 with the win and have now gone 17-1 over their last 18 games — 15 of those wins have come by double digits.
It's a level of play that is rarely seen in the league at large, and even less so in Utah. You have to go back to the days of Karl Malone and John Stockton to find stretches of equal dominance by a Jazz squad. So the team is trying to soak up the magic that is being created on the court and appreciate what they are doing — even if it is just a small step to a larger goal.
"You have to enjoy it and that's really the mindset that I have," said Gobert, who had 27 points and 12 rebounds on Friday. "We know our ultimate goal, but at the same time, we know we have to enjoy the journey and we have to enjoy every single game, and not let that kind of pressure affect us in a negative way. I think all the pressure is a positive pressure because we put the work in. We work very hard to be able to be in a position that we're in right now. It's exciting and we got to keep trying to find ways to get better and better."
The latest win started with Joe Ingles hitting four straight threes and then feeding Gobert for a skyscraping tomahawk dunk on reigning Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo (Gobert may have enjoyed that one more than normal).
It had Jordan Clarkson spinning and pulling up over Antetokounmpo for a three, seemingly not at all fazed by his long reach.
Oh, and there was the special possession in the second quarter that was part of a late run that stretched Utah's lead to 17 by halftime.
Bogdanovic jumped to catch a slightly off-target pass from Royce O'Neale and tossed it behind his back to Donovan Mitchell standing in the corner. Mitchell, though, one-upped his teammate. He had seen Joe Ingles running to the opposite corner and fired a one-handed pass that almost looked like a hook shot right into Ingles' shooting pocket. The Australian quickly fired up a shot for three of his career-high-tying 27 points.
It wasn't the first time Mitchell had thrown a one-handed laser during his four-year career and Ingles, when asked about the play, was pretty sure he knew how Mitchell would respond.
So in his best try and at a Mitchell impression (not a good one, mind you), Ingles said: "I used to play baseball as a kid. I could throw 90 miles per hour."
All jokes aside, that is where Mitchel got that ability. And even when Ingles was heading to the corner, he thought it was 50-50 at best that Mitchell would be able to get it to him.
"When I first started running I was open and then I honestly didn't think it was gonna get through," Ingles said.
It got through.
That was one of Mitchell's eight assists on the night (he also added 26 points — one of four Utah players to score over 25 on Friday). In the three games that Mike Conley has missed due to a tight hamstring, Mitchell has averaged 9.3 assists per game.
"The roles are definitely changing a little bit, but we're stepping our game up but I think that's the best thing about this team," Mitchell said. "It doesn't matter who it is, we're gonna go out there and continue to try and augment and play the right way."
And maybe try to one-up each other in the process.