MINNEAPOLIS — A season after being swept by the Wolves, 3-0 during the shortened 72 game campaign, the Utah Jazz showed up on Wednesday night boasting the league’s number one offense (116.5 points per 100 possessions per Basketball Reference) looking to win their fifth straight and maybe get a little revenge in the process, too.
“We got swept. It’s no secret,” said Donovan Mitchell. “They swept us, and they’re a good team. I gotta give them credit ‘cause they have a lot of guys who can go get it and guard. They’re athletic; they’re physical. So, just trying to take what was given but also be in attack mode. I think we all kinda felt that we all were like, ‘at the end of the day, getting swept is not fun.’ ... We have a lot of pride in this team. We took that personal.”
After a tight, back and forth first half (60-59 at the break), Utah came for blood after the break. A blowout 136-104 win ensued. Mitchell was everything and more, hitting threes early to find his groove before an onslaught of smooth drives and crafty finishes. The layup package he flashed at Target Center could be featured in an NBA art exhibition; his Eurostep was so lethal it felt like time paused between each step before the inevitable swish of the net. In the end, Mitchell strutted his All-Star stuff by dropping a cool 36 points, extending his recent scoring binge and the Jazz winning streak in the process. He now has 156 points in the past 5 games. #TakeNote is an old hashtag Utah fans may want to resurrect to highlight the way Mitchell is dicing up recent opponents.
Donovan Mitchell is on full SPIDA mode pic.twitter.com/s3CnMDRv8k— Jazz Nation (@JazzNationCP) December 9, 2021
For the second straight game, the Wolves were buried by the deep ball. Atlanta hit 25 treys to set a franchise record with 25 makes on a season-high 49 attempts from beyond the arc on Monday night. Utah must’ve grown envious of that number in film review as they also hit 25 (on 54 attempts). Bojan Bogdanovic (21 points and five rebounds) and Jordan Clarkson (18 points) hit 10 of 22 from deep, meaning that’s 50 threes allowed in two games—a number so high you’d have to pay me to look into how historically bad it actually is.
The questions that immediately come to mind: Is that 3-point variance? Weak shot contesting and/or dying on screens? Getting lost in transition defense? Injuries and sicknesses? Great offenses knowing exactly where and how to crush the Wolves after more than a fourth of the season is on tape?
OK, enough with questions. The Wolves were blown out at home in front of a pretty good crowd after an entertaining first half (down 60-59). The offense ultimately ran dry and too many close paint looks—an abysmal 18 of 41 shooting in the paint—were uncapitalized as the Jazz gained momentum and confidence with each miss. Whether the Wolves want to give Rudy Gobert credit (they don’t) for the disturbance or not, the lack of finishing was doubly bad, resulting in early offense and transition dominance on the other end by a far superior team. Chris Finch wasn’t happy about it afterward.
“I mean, big boy basketball. We’re not finishing like big boys around the rim,” said Finch. “We’re going in there finishing soft and we’ve gotta be better at finishing and like, take the hits; get the ball over the glass and make these easy baskets that were easy opportunities that we’re generating. Like it’s just literally that to me. We just gotta finish through contact with strength.”
Utah is currently running hot with a full squad of awesome complementary pieces around their star two-guard, Mitchell, and All-NBA defensive center in Gobert. Meanwhile, the Wolves have been going through recent lineup turmoil as coach Finch does his best to stitch together lineups against much stronger competition this month. There was no D’Angelo Russell again with right ankle soreness, Towns is still dealing with a hard fall on his tailbone, Patrick Beverley finally returned after missing six games with a left adductor strain, and guys have been sick with flu-like symptoms. These can all be read as excuses but it’s also true, in all of this, how little room for error there is once a significant player is removed from the equation.
Anthony Edwards said the best rim protector in the league is ... Kristaps Porzingis. On Rudy Gobert, Ant said, “Anytime I go against Porzingis, I don’t get no layups. I don’t get why we couldn’t finish on Rudy Gobert. He don’t put no fear in my heart. I don’t know why.”
Edwards (18 points, 5 dimes) was good in the first half before largely disappearing and Towns (22/7/5) showed up strong in the third but was non-existent for big portions of the night. Jaden McDaniels and Naz Reid couldn’t hit anything from the field, combing for 4-21. The game wouldn’t have gotten out of hand if they weren’t so ice cold.
Beverley threw some shade at Gobert as well, both during the game and in his postgame availability. It’s fair to say the Wolves have some beef with him, though the timing is off after losing by 32. See the two tweets below.
"Obviously, they have the best Defensive Player of the Year, quote unquote, in Rudy Gobert.”— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) December 9, 2021
Patrick Beverley throwing some shade? pic.twitter.com/WpOdYSHfBU
Patrick Beverley with an interesting interpretation of Utah’s game plan to guard KAT with a power forward (something the Wolves see so often now that they call it the Utah defense) pic.twitter.com/CYp7NqoHUG— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) December 9, 2021
Wolves conclude their three-game homestand Friday night against the upstart Cavs (14-12!). Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love should have many fans in attendance. A first live look at Evan Mobley is icing on the cake.
Edwards was also asked about how Towns can deal with double teams. His answer was perfect. “You gotta go quick.” I’ll have more thoughts on this topic in the coming days.
Anthony Edwards discusses how KAT needs to deal with double teams. “You gotta go quick.” Don’t wait for the double to come. He used Embiid as an example of going quick. Ant said it was disrespectful that Utah defended Towns with Bojan Bogdanović + Karl needs to kill every night. pic.twitter.com/kXhEiTl4qZ— John Meyer (@meyerNBA) December 9, 2021
Ant Edwards discusses some conversations he’s had with Towns about dealing with double teams. “They can’t guard you bruh. I tell him this all the time. … If he just stop waiting on the double team, we would be a way better team. Just catch it & go cuz now you can’t double him.” pic.twitter.com/MsIT1yxD8j— John Meyer (@meyerNBA) December 9, 2021
WOLVES FORWARD TAUREAN PRINCE
On the lack of defense:
“Yeah, I happen to agree with [Coach Chris Finch] in some areas, but me being someone with some experience, I start with myself. I did a pretty bad job on my defender. Let a lot of pick and roll situations get rejected which put our defense in a bad position, but the thing about it, I think we have smart enough guys that can balance bad things like this and learn from our mistakes and we’ll be watching film first thing in the morning on Thursday.”
On Mitchell’s impact:
“Yeah, well like I said, especially Donovan, we let him reject some screens. Which was against our gameplan to begin with, so who’s to say it doesn’t go our way if we stick to the game plan; force him to the screens and get over in our contest. Force him into the mid-range tough shots, so he was able to be comfortable out there. I put the blame on myself and for certain situations and like I said, we just get better.”
UTAH JAZZ HEAD COACH QUIN SNYDER
On Mitchell’s recent performance:
I think he’s, you know, he’s had a good mix. Um, where you, you know he’s spacing well off the ball . So he’s getting more catches, shoots, release. Um, and then you know he been getting to the rim, um he been rejecting the pick-and- roll. When you know you can get to the rim like that it push a lot of pressure on the defense, I think it’s good defending too, just as much as anything, it’s something you know. When you’re scoring like that you can impact the game that way. Being able to impact on both ends is something we talked about a lot and taken a lot of pride in
On Utah’s defense in the second half:
“I think the way the game started, for instance Patrick Beverley, I mean he can make that floater and he always plays well against us. There were some shots, (Josh Okogie) hit a couple, they made some shots early. Sometimes when teams are making shots, it can be discouraging. I thought we hung in there with what we were trying to do from a gameplan standpoint, and you know over time, hopefully what you’re doing can make it harder on the team, and those percentages can change.”