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SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell said that by the season's end, Friday's 110-101 victory over the Sacramento Kings may go down as one of the biggest wins of the season.
The second game of the year? Against the Kings? That could be one of the biggest games of the season?
Allow him to explain: "For us to correct ourselves throughout the game — mid-game, on the floor, not during a timeout, not during halftime, in the moment. I think that's one thing that really stood out to me in our play," Mitchell said.
Things aren't always going to go right each game; Friday showed the Jazz can find ways to win, regardless.
It was clear early that it wasn't going to be the easiest night for the visitors.
Joe Ingles walked onto the court after he assumed what the call would be. He had just clipped Davion Mitchell in the air as the Kings rookie went up for a right-handed dunk. There wasn't much contact, but it was enough to send Mitchell crashing to the court and a trigger for a lengthy review.
It was clear that a flagrant 1 was merited — Ingles had undercut Mitchell somewhat but turned away to at least try to limit the contact. Unnecessary contact? Sure. Excessive? Not really.
But that's not how the officials saw it. The refs signaled for a flagrant 2, much to the surprise of Ingles, the Jazz bench and even Sacramento's Mitchell (who said after the game he didn't think the foul merited the extra penalty). Ingles was ejected from the game.
"When we looked at it, we had reckless contact to an airborne shooter," crew chief Kevin Cutler told a pool reporter following the game. "The contact was deemed unnecessary and excessive, which is the criteria for a Flagrant Foul Penalty 2."
Whatever they thought of the foul, the result was the same: The Jazz were suddenly without one of their key ball handlers and arguably best 3-point shooter. It took them some time to overcome that.
The Kings went on an immediate 15-0 run with an increasingly aggressive defense that served as Davion Mitchell's coming out party. In fact, the Kings challenged the Jazz so much they almost seemed to take it personally, with each playing wanting to show that the once lowly-Kings couldn't guard them. There was one little problem: They could. And all the ball-stopping isolation led to some pretty bad basketball.
The highlight (or lowlight, in this sense) of the sequence was when Donovan Mitchell tried to take Davion Mitchell one-on-one and had the ball ripped away from him. The play continued on the other end with Davion Mitchell throwing a lob for a layup. In short: not great (though, to be fair, it probably should have just been a jump ball; it was a tough whistle on Friday at times for the Jazz).
Rudy Gobert struggled, Donovan Mitchell got his drives halted, and the Jazz relied on their bench — including promising performances from Hassan Whiteside, Trent Forrest and Eric Paschall — just to keep them connected.
But, what stood out to Quin Snyder and Mitchell was that they figured it out.
Utah's star guard, who led the Jazz with 27 points on 9-of-25 shooting, started attacking smarter, either using different angles to get Davion Mitchell off balance or simply moving the ball when he got bottled up.
The Jazz have plenty of weapons, even without Ingles available, to almost always find an open man. If the Kings wanted to make life hard on the inside, they've got more than enough 3-point shooters to get a good look. Utah shot 38% from 3 on Friday; it didn't need to challenge at the rim.
"I thought Sacramento did an excellent job with their physicality, pressuring the ball," Snyder said. "I thought we got stronger and tougher as the game went on."
That continued even when the Kings tried to expose Utah's supposed Achilles' Heel. In the closing minutes, the Kings went small hoping to limit Gobert's impact in the game. It had the opposite effect.
"He didn't finish strong in the beginning," Mitchell said. "And then you look at the end with his finishes in the second half, it was night and day."
Gobert finished with 17 points and 20 rebounds and led a 13-2 run late in the fourth to break a 95-all tie.
"That's gonna be a consistent thing we're gonna see," Snyder said of going against small lineups. "I thought we did a really good job. Rudy got switched out onto (De'Aaron Fox), he guarded (Harrison) Barnes, and that was a stretch where we got stops."
And a rough night turned into a big win.