Sports / Utah Jazz / 
Utah Jazz guard Joe Ingles (2) scores past Los Angeles Lakers forward Markieff Morris (88) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, April 19, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

AP

'That's who our team is': Jazz still look like the Jazz without Donovan Mitchell

By Ryan Miller, KSL.com | Posted - Apr. 20, 2021 at 10:02 a.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Royce O'Neale started Monday's win over the Los Angeles Lakers with 5 quick points. Obviously, that meant he had a little more of a quick trigger with Donovan Mitchell out, right?

Well, not exactly.

"I was just taking the shots that were there," O'Neale said.

He wasn't just being humble, either. His first shot of the game came on a kick out after Mike Conley got deep into the paint. His second was on a transition layup — an open 3 and an open shot at the rim. That's just how the Utah Jazz want to play.

The Jazz will be without Donovan Mitchell for at least the coming week after he suffered a sprained ankle in the Jazz's win over Indiana. With how injuries are mounting up around the league, Utah certainly won't be rushing him back before it absolutely needs to get him on the court. Monday, then, was the first glimpse of the Utah team that will be trying to keep the No. 1 seed without their All-Star scorer.

The verdict? The Jazz, well, looked like the Jazz.

How does a team replace a player that was doing things that a Utah team hasn't seen since Karl Malone? By doing the same thing that has gotten them at the top of the standings in the first place.

The Jazz utilized long stretches of impressive ball movement that had the Lakers scrambling all game, and then they made them pay. Utah had six players score in double figures, made 15 3-pointers and took 29 shots at the rim. Mitchell might be the usual engine that makes the offense go, but he's certainly not the only one the Jazz have.

Conley showed that early by dishing out eight assists to help the Jazz out to an early lead; he finished with 10 assists, just his fifth double-digit assist game of the season. The pass-happy Jazz also got five assists each from Joe Ingles and O'Neale, and four more from Bojan Bogdanovic.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder said his team's spacing on Monday was the best he'd seen from them in a long time. It's what allowed the ball to zip around and around until an open shot was found. That's when the Jazz are at their best — with or without Mitchell.

"That's who we are when we have Donovan," Snyder said. "That's who our team is. It can be different guys at different times; obviously, Donovan's that guy a lot of times. He's had plenty of games where he's had high assists games and different guys are getting shots. We're just trying to take what the defense gives us and I think that's the key for our team is to read and react to how we're being played."

Snyder praised a stretch in the fourth quarter when every shot his team took, at least by his memory, was either a 3 or at the rim. But really, that was the case for much of the game. The Jazz only attempted a pair of long 2s in the entire 48 minutes. That type of smart decision making can help make up for the absence of a scoring star.

"Those are high percentage plays and that requires us to be connected. That's what we want, no matter who's on the court," Snyder said. "No guy's gonna play 48 minutes, so that's who we are collectively."

The Jazz have a luxury of rarely having to change the way they play. In fact, Saturday's game against the Lakers was the first true deviant from the norm. Utah was without Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, meaning they didn't have a screener or a rim runner to start the entire offense.

Those two were back on Monday and that meant Utah could take advantage of its other immense luxury: an embarrassment of riches when it comes to pick-and-roll ball handlers. Conley is an All-Star, Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles are probably 1-2 in this season's best sixth man rankings, and Bogdanovic can even initiate the offense in a pinch.

The Jazz don't want to be without Mitchell for long — especially if they have to play some close games — but like Monday showed, they are equipped to survive some time without him.

"We have a lot of talent. It's definitely a blessing for our team," Gobert said. "That's why when someone is out, we still have a very good team. We probably have like eight, nine guys who would probably start on most of the teams in this league. So it's a luxury. Obviously Donovan is a unique player but when he's out, we got guys that are able to create and do things for this team."

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