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It's all smiles as Jazz welcome back Georges Niang in rout of 76ers



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell gave an exasperated sigh and then quickly smiled.

"That guy!" Mitchell said, with a laugh.

It's a pretty standard response when someone is asked about Georges Niang. The loud jokester that can elicit a smile from even the biggest pessimist.

"There are guys that bring clouds and guys that bring sunshine," Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said. "He's a sunshine guy for sure."

Niang, the beloved former Utah Jazz forward made his return to Salt Lake City Tuesday with the visiting Philadelphia 76ers, which gave his former teammates a chance to reminisce on the Minivan's time in Utah.

"He's one of the best teammates I've had," Mitchell said. "He's never had a bad day. He's always keeping everything positive."

After extolling some of Niang's many virtues, Mitchell concluded by saying: "I'm excited to see him, but at the end of the day we have to go out there and kick his (expletive)."

It sounded like a joke; apparently, it wasn't.

The Jazz dominated the 76ers 120-85 Tuesday at Vivint Arena — a much-needed win for a team that had lost four of its last five games. Utah improved to 9-5 on the season with the victory.

In stark contrast to the games leading up to it, the Jazz were superb in transition defense and dominated in the paint — and actually made shots.

Helping Utah's cause was that Philadelphia was severely short-handed. The Sixers were without Joel Embiid, Matisse Thybulle and Danny Green (oh, and Ben Simmons, too). That's a lot of minutes to make up, and the Sixers simply didn't have the bodies to do it.

Embiid's replacement, Andre Drummond, offered little resistance to Utah's endless drives and rolls to the hoop, and an array of would-be small-ball centers (including the Minivan himself) were no match for Rudy Gobert and Co. inside.

That all made for a perfect opportunity for a get-right game, and the Jazz took full advantage.

Even with the obvious edge in talent, the Jazz still had to do things right. After all, Utah should have been the better team in at least three of their four recent losses, but that didn't mean much then, either.

"No matter who's on the court, we've got to have the same focus and energy," said Bojan Bogdanovic, who led the Jazz with 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including 5 of 7 from the 3-point line.

The Jazz were a more focused team than the one that had gone through a week-long slump, especially when it came to getting back on defense. Head coach Quin Snyder labored that point home time and time again over the last week, hoping his team would finally start to run back. On Tuesday, the message finally seemed to sink in.

"I just thought the consistency, the sustained effort, (was there) — really it's transition as much as anything; get to the next play," Snyder said. "Whether we make a good play that we're happy about offensively or we make a mistake to be able to get back and protect the paint."

That defense held Philadelphia scoreless for the first four minutes of the second quarter as part of a 27-6 run that blew the game wide open. Utah finished with a superb 86.7 defensive rating in non-garbage time minutes.

"Transition defense was something that we keyed on these last few days of practice," said Jordan Clarkson, who had 20 points off the bench. "So I think we did a good job executing tonight. We gotta keep continuing to carry that forward."

To the team, it wasn't a coincidence that with the defense locked in, the offense followed. It's cyclical: When the Jazz get a stop, it's likely to get a better look on the other end. With a good offensive possession, it's easier to defend on the next one. And over and over it goes.

Bogdanovic got open look after open look after the Jazz pushed the ball in transition, and the Jazz were able to get to the rim with ease. Utah had 56 points in the paint and shot 42% from 3-point range as it completely overwhelmed the visitors.

That all meant that Niang's return — he was greeted with a loud ovation and the organization played a tribute video for him chronicling his years in Utah — was all smiles for the Jazz. Before, during and after the game Niang visited the Jazz locker room following the contest to visit with his old teammates. He poked his head in the media room first and loudly proclaimed with a smile, "You guys can't talk (expletive) about me now!"

That guy.

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