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Jazz no match for Donovan Mitchell and Cavs

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CLEVELAND — Donovan Mitchell froze a defender with a crossover as he slipped inside the 3-point line. He dribbled in, and with a quick ball fake and side step, he was around the rim protector and put the ball off the glass for a layup.

It was the type of move Jazz fans had seen for five seasons, but their team was on the other side of it on Monday.

Playing against his former squad for the first time, Mitchell scored 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting — all in just 23 minutes of action. Why the low minutes? Well, that's all Cleveland needed from him.

The Cavs made easy work of the visiting Jazz and smashed Utah 122-99 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Mitchell set the stage with 11 points in the first six minutes of the contest. When he exited then, he bobbed head with a smirk. He said postgame there was nothing personal about the contest, and he consistently downplayed the significance of seeing his former team. At that moment, it was hard to believe him.

Regardless, that run set the tone for what would be a long night for the Jazz, because Mitchell was far from the only one who was cooking.

Cleveland shot 61% from the field and 58% from 3-point range. As for Utah, it was 40% from the field and 30% from the 3-point line. Just a bit of a difference.

So what happened?

In a lot of ways, it was a repeat of the Jazz's performance in Milwaukee on Saturday. The Jazz went up against a physical defense and then wilted.

"They're just big and physical. I don't think that we've had the necessary approach to the little things offensively," head coach Will Hardy said. "Things as simple as fighting for your space when you want to get a catch, sprinting to screen, bending your knees when you go to set a screen so that you can actually make contact and get your teammates open.

"Teams that are big and physical like this, they expose that when you don't do it. We can't just use all speed against them."

The Jazz don't have a player that can break down a defense by themselves and set everything up. In short, they no longer have Mitchell. The spacing was bad for much of the night — missing Kelly Olynyk, who was out with a sprained ankle — also led to that, and the shooting was worse. That's not a good combo for success.

And without a stellar first half from Lauri Markkanen, everything would have been much worse.

Markkanen was fantastic early in his return to Cleveland. In the first half, he scored 22 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Outside of him, though, it was a forgettable night on the shores of Lake Erie.

"I think that these last two games have shown us that when teams do have a significant size advantage on us, we really have to be more cognizant of the little things to help each other create good shots," Hardy said.

On a lighter note, the performance did help reveal some of Hardy's sense of humor. After the game, Hardy was asked about how he felt his defense did. He paused for a beat, as he gave a blank stare, before saying, "Objection, leading the witness."

He smiled and then said what everyone already knew: "It was terrible."

"I mean, they got where they wanted to go," he continued. "They made a lot of tough shots, but they also had, you know, 10 or 11 dunks."

The Cavs had 29 fast-break points and shot 66% in the paint to go along with shooting 15-of-26 from the 3-point line. With those numbers, it might be good that Hardy has a sense of humor.

Maybe the Jazz can blame Mitchell for their performance, too. The former Jazz guard, after all, did try to pull some gamesmanship on his old teammates ahead of the game.

"I tried to get them to play Xbox to distract them this morning, because we are still in the same group chat," he said after the game.

It didn't sound like that caper was too successful. His play, though, more than made up for it.

When asked how he thought Mitchell played tonight, Jordan Clarkson looked down at the stat sheet.

"I dunno," Clarkson said, almost sarcastically, as he searched Mitchell's name. "He played good, 8-for-12, 4-for-5. He didn't play much in the fourth quarter; they were up by 20. So he played pretty good."

He looked up and slightly chuckled as he finished his answer — the same way he probably would have smiled after Mitchell had a game like that for the Jazz.

This time, though, he was against Mitchell, and the Jazz didn't have an answer.

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